Environmental Law

Jury Says Exxon Owes $105M in NYC Well Case, But Judge Nixes Punitives

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A federal jury in New York today found Exxon Mobil Corp. liable for polluting well water in the New York City’s borough of Queens with a gasoline additive and ordered the company to pay almost $105 million in cleanup costs.

However, the verdict was also something of a win for Exxon, according to Bloomberg: The city had sought $250 million in water treatment costs, and as another Bloomberg article reported several days earlier, U.S. District Judge Shira Ann Scheindlin ruled that the city hadn’t provided enough evidence to prove its claim for punitive damages.

Nonetheless, Exxon intends to appeal and expects absolute vindication on review, says attorney Peter Sacripanti of McDermott Will & Emery. “We wouldn’t have tried the case if we didn’t think we were absolutely right.”

Meanwhile, the city is delighted with the verdict rendered by the Manhattan jury, officials say in a New York City Law Department press release (PDF). San Francisco-based Sher Leff and Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger of Los Angeles litigated the case for the city.

The additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, is added to gasoline to improve air quality. However, Exxon should not have used it in gasoline that went into underground tanks near wells used for drinking water, since underground storage tanks are known to leak, the city contended. Exxon argued that dry cleaning solvent was largely responsible for the claimed well water contamination, reports Bloomberg.

The case focused on six of 68 city wells in Queens, the press release states. Other oil companies previously settled claims for a total of $15 million.

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