ExxonMobil wins and regular folks lose in $1 billion pollution ruling
Susan and Robert Lazzaro buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. Their jacuzzi sits empty and baths are out of the question. They limit their showers to two minutes or less.
And like many other homeowners in Jacksonville, Md., the Lazarros fear that the savings they invested in their home were wiped out when a local ExxonMobil gas station leaked for more than a month in 2006, poisoning the groundwater upon which they depended.
All was not lost: In 2011, a jury awarded victims of the gasoline leak $1.5 billion in compensation and punitive damages. Of that sum, $5.6 million was to go to the Lazarros.
But we’re talking about an oil giant here. Inevitability ran its course and all suddenly seems lost again.
That’s according to The Baltimore Sun, which reports that Maryland’s highest court on Tuesday rejected $1 billion in punitive damages from the $1.5 billion verdict and also rejected some claims from an earlier case in which $150 million was awarded to a smaller number of plaintiffs. The court ruled that victims of the pollution should not be compensated for emotional distress, nor should ExxonMobil have to pay for monitoring their health. From the article:
Charlie Engelmann, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, said in an email that the company was pleased with the decision.
“The evidence showed that we acted appropriately after the accident and the court has agreed,” Engelmann wrote. “We have apologized to the Jacksonville community and we remain ready to compensate those who were truly damaged by this unfortunate accident. We will continue the cleanup.”
The court rejected all six claims of fraud the jury affirmed in 2011, including ExxonMobil’s alleged willful deceptions of public officials and residents before and after the accident.
While ExxonMobil officials were pleased by the ruling, the Lazarros and their neighbors are left wondering how they will pick up the remnants of their polluted lives. “We’re all still in a state of shock,” Susan Lazzaro told the newspaper. “It leaves us with such a sense of defeat because we are still living with this nightmare.”
The Associated Press reported that 150 families were affected by Tuesday’s ruling and that new trials have been ordered.