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Monday, 2 October, 2000, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Court upholds Exxon damages
Exxon Valdez oil tanker
The 1989 Exxon Valdez accident was America's worst oil spill
The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Exxon Mobil against the $5bn punitive damages it was ordered to pay after one of its tankers caused the worst oil spill in US history.

The ruling on the Exxon Valdez disaster was one of a number the court made on its first day of work after a three-month summer recess.

The justices upheld an appeal court ruling that the award against the oil giant in a civil lawsuit brought by Alaskan fishermen and other plaintiffs should not be set aside because of irregularities during jury deliberations.

This case involves the fundamental right to a fair and impartial jury

Exxon Mobil
The Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989, spilling millions of gallons of oil off Alaska's coast and polluting 1,610 km (1,000 miles) of shoreline with disastrous consequences for fishing and the environment.

Gun and bullet

The company's appeal centred on the misconduct of court bailiff Don Warrick, who escorted the jury during the 1994 trial and deliberations.

Mr Warrick is reported to have pulled out his gun, taken out one of its bullets and made remarks about one of the jurors who had become emotionally distraught during deliberations.

In its Supreme Court appeal, Exxon Mobil said: "This case involves the fundamental right to a fair and impartial jury."

But lawyers for the plaintiffs called for the appeal to be rejected, saying it presented no issue requiring Supreme Court consideration.

Both the 1994 trial judge and the appeals court had ruled that Exxon Mobil failed to prove that the jury had been prejudiced by Mr Warrick's misconduct.

An Exxon spokesman, Tom Cirigliano, said the company was not giving up on the damages issue and had other appeals pending.

Other rulings

In addition to the Exxon case, the Supreme Court faces a backlog of more than 1,600 cases which accumulated during its summer break. Amongst other rulings issued on Monday, the court:

  • dismissed an appeal by 31 congressmen who accused President Clinton of overstepping his authority during last year's Yugoslavia bombing
  • stayed out of a dispute over the characters Norm and Cliff in the hit television show Cheers
  • refused to revive legal action against America Online by subscribers who allege the company made unjust charges and failed to protect customer privacy
  • and rejected an appeal by French distiller Pernod over a rum trademark dispute with a US rival.

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See also:

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Exxon Valdez anniversary
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Exxon Valdez: Tip of an oily iceberg
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Tanker firm fined for oil spill
23 Mar 99 | Americas
Exxon Valdez: Ten years on
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