WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court has stepped into the long-running battle over the $2.5 billion in punitive damages owed by Exxon Mobil for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
A federal appeals court already had cut in half the $5 billion in damages awarded by a jury in 1994.
The justices today said they would consider whether the company should have to pay any punitive damages at all.
If the court decides some money is due, Exxon is arguing that $2.5 billion is excessive under laws governing shipping and prior high court decisions limiting punitive damages.
In its brief to the court, the company said the damages were, by far, the largest ever approved by federal appeals judges.
The company says it has already has paid $3.4 billion in clean-up costs and other penalties resulting from the oil spill.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, some of whom are deceased, say the damages award is “barely more than three weeks of Exxon’s net profits.”
The plaintiffs still living include about 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Alaska Natives, local governments and businesses.
The case probably will be heard in the spring.
Eleven millions gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound when the supertanker ran aground on a reef.Â