Jury says Exxon must pay $1.5 billion for leak
TOWSON, Maryland (Reuters) - A jury in Maryland awarded plaintiffs suing oil company Exxon Mobil about $1.5 billion for a 2006 leak at a gasoline station, according to court documents.
Verdicts released by the Baltimore County Circuit Court on Friday showed the jury awarded the 160 plaintiffs in the case against the oil company more than $1 billion in punitive damages.
That figure is in addition to the $495 million in compensation that the jury awarded the plaintiffs for damage caused by the 26,000 gallons of gasoline that leaked from a pressurized line in Jacksonville, Maryland over 37 days in January and February in 2006, according to media reports.
Exxon Mobil said the company would appeal the verdict.
"As we've stated throughout the last five years, we sincerely regret this unfortunate accident. We apologize to the Jacksonville community and have devoted significant resources to clean-up, recovery and remediation activities," a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
The damage award is far higher than the $900 million that Exxon Mobil paid in civil penalties for lawsuits related to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, although the company has said it spent more than $4 billion on clean-up costs and total legal settlements.
In the Valdez case, Exxon successfully appealed a jury's original ruling that called for it to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, and eventually had that amount cut to about $500 million.
The Maryland case stemmed from a fuel leak that reached the groundwater in the community, which relies on private wells for drinking water.
The company has said it already had spent more than $46 million on the spill's cleanup and been fined $4 million by the state.
The case is the second related to the spill. The jury in the first lawsuit, which involved fewer plaintiffs, awarded $150 million in compensatory damages. Exxon Mobil has appealed that verdict.
Shares in Exxon Mobil closed up 66 cents to $82.04 on the New York Stock Exchange, in a broadly higher market.
(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York; Editing by Derek Caney)
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