October 20, 2008

Lawsuit Threatens Exxon Valdez Payouts

Legal wrangling could hold up payments of about $383 million in damages from Alaska's Exxon Valdez oil spill, lawyers say.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered lower courts to award up to $507.5 million in punitive damages to nearly 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, land owners, Alaska Natives and others who claimed they were harmed from the oil spill.

The Anchorage Daily News reported Monday that after the Supreme Court decision Exxon greed to release $383 million, under a partial settlement.

This month lawyers for Sea Hawk Seafoods Inc., a Seattle company that ran a fish-processing plant in Valdez, filed court papers to stop the payments.

The company says the Supreme Court held that the size of punitive damage awards must be proportional to the size of compensatory damage awards already paid to the plaintiffs.

Sea Hawk says the current allocation plan is flawed because some plaintiffs stand to receive disproportionately larger or smaller shares than they deserve.

David Oesting, the lead lawyer for Exxon Valdez plaintiffs, said he intends to fight Sea Hawk's effort.

"They just want a whole lot more money that they're not really entitled to, in my opinion," Oesting said.