A punitive damage award in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case that once amounted to $5 billion was knocked down to $507.5 million by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The 5-3 majority said that in the maritime law context, there should be a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages. A trial judge had awarded $507.5 million in compensatory damages to a class of fishermen who suffered losses from the 1989 oil spill, so Justice David Souter, who wrote the majority opinion, said the punitive award should match that figure. The award had already been reduced to $2.5 billion on appeal, so Wednesday’s decision saved Exxon Mobil nearly $2 billion.
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