A federal judge has stated that the thousands of Alaskan fishermen and other plaintiffs involved in the Exxon Valdez oil spill lawsuit should receive their portion of the punitive damages. The judge, H. Russel Holland, ordered the release of $151 million of the $383 million settlement stemming from the lawsuit that took place over twenty years ago. The remaining $232 million will be distributed later.
Under the agreement, $383 million was to be distributed to over 33,000 commercial fishermen and others who sued Exxon in 1989 after the crude oil spill in the Prince William Sound. A jury in 1994 awarded the plaintiffs $5 billion. The Supreme Court, however, reduced the award to $507 million. It is now being debated whether Exxon should have to pay interest, which would add an estimated $488 million. The plaintiffs attorney expects the money to be delivered sometime this week.
Exxon has already been given a huge discount by the Supreme Court when the Court eliminated the vast majority of the punitive damages. Paying interest to the fisherman seems fair, given Exxon’s strategy of delaying this matter for nearly 20 years. Such a strategy should not be rewarded by allowing Exxon to avoid interest payments. Let’s hope the interest debate is so decided.