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Trials & Litigation

Lawyer’s $236M verdict against ExxonMobil isn’t her first big win

Posted Apr 16, 2013 5:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The lead lawyer who obtained a $236 million verdict against ExxonMobil in a groundwater contamination case last week had another high-profile win in 2005 against Wal-Mart.

Being a lawyer was a childhood dream for 44-year-old Jessica Grant, who used to play make-believe court in her bedroom when she was 11 years old, the Associated Press reports. It was then that Grant vowed to become one of the top trial lawyers in the country.

Grant's first “dramatic courtroom victory” came when she obtained a $172 million verdict on behalf of 116,000 workers who claimed Wal-Mart refused to grant them breaks, the story says. She was recruited by San Francisco law firm Sher Leff to represent the state of New Hampshire in its suit against ExxonMobil.

The lawsuit had contended Exxon was negligent for using the additive MTBE in gasoline without warning of risks, resulting in groundwater contamination, Bloomberg News reported last week. New Hampshire has estimated the cleanup to cost $816 million. The $236 million verdict against Exxon represents 29 percent of the total and is based on its market share. Exxon is appealing.

AP says jurors deliberated only 90 minutes before reaching a verdict, while Bloomberg says jurors took about three hours to find liability. The trial had lasted three months. The amount awarded is the largest in New Hampshire history and the third-largest awarded nationwide this year, according to Bloomberg.

A columnist for the Concord Monitor called the suit a "shakedown" and said MBTE was added to gasoline in response to a federal law designed to reduce tailpipe pollution. "It turns out that we’re paying for cleaner air with dirtier water," the columnist says.

Grant told AP that for the past three years she has worked seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, on the case.

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