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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
Attorney • (888) 295-7409

The Rich get Richer

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Well, Exxon sure is having a good year. First, oil prices have skyrocketed, and that has led to record profits for Exxon. Second, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled in favor of Exxon and against the State of Alabama in the State’s fraud claim against the company. As a result, instead of a three billion dollar verdict (originally, it was eleven billion, but the trial judge reduced it), the verdict was reduced to approximately $50 million for the breach of contract claim. This reduction was notwithstanding the fact that TWO unanimous juries of twelve ruled against Exxon on the fraud claim. That’s right TWO juries. The first verdict was appealed and sent back to state court for a second trial, and that jury agreed with the first. So much for our constitution and right to trial by jury.

Now, what has happened? Well, for the trifecta, the United States Supreme Court has reduced the punitive damage verdict against Exxon in the Valdez oil spill. Instead of the $2.5 billion dollar verdict for punitive damages, Exxon will only have to pay approximately $500 million. The kicker? In the last quarter, $500 million equaled about four days of net profit. That means, it will take four days for them to pay off this verdict. If they had to pay the Alabama verdict and the original Valdez oil spill verdict, it would have taken them 48 days to pay it based upon these profits. Less than one quarter of the calendar year. This doesn’t even consider how long Exxon drug the cases out in the system so they could hang on to the money and earn interest on it.

So, did our court system work? Well, it depends on whose side you are on. If you are on the side of big business, insurance companies, and tort reform, yes, it worked perfectly. The damages were reduced so that it won’t affect Exxon in the least, and when the situation arises again, they won’t care because they know the system will hardly touch them financially.

But, if you are on the side of the jury system and our constitution, I would argue it didn’t work. The juries decided Exxon committed fraud in Alabama. That’s TWO juries. Each composed of twelve individuals who listened to the facts of the case as presented by both side’s capable attorneys. Each time, the twelve individuals UNANIMOUSLY decided Exxon was in the wrong. Do you know how hard it is to get twelve people to agree on anything? In this case, you can argue that twenty-four people agreed. But, since our courts disagreed, Exxon gets to keep on keepin’ on.