Nearly two decades after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the class action law suit representing the fishermen of Prince William Sound has made it to the Supreme Court. The fishermen who lost their livelihoods as a result of the spill will find out if they will be the awarded the $2.5-5 billion they were awarded in the first round of court hearings, or if they will get zero.
In the spring of 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground and gushed nearly 11 million gallons of fuel, killing more than 200,000 seabirds as well as otters, harbor seals and other marine life. It shut down the region’s fishing industry.
In 1994, they were awarded $5 billion in punitive damages in U.S. District Court. In a series of appeals, that was cut to $2.5 billion. That verdict could be upheld, or done away with entirely, when the Supreme Court rules sometime later this year.
Exxon, in a press statement, called the oil spill a tragic accident that the corporation deeply regrets. But a spokesman said the corporation already has spent more than $3.5 billion in compensatory and cleanup payments and does not believe that maritime law allows for punitive damages.
Such comments reignite the anger in the 63-year-old Copeland. Back in 1989, he was so frustrated by the slow progress of the cleanup that he built his own oil skimmer made of hoses, flour scoops, five-gallon buckets and a small pump.
That was the start of the “fishermen’s bounty program” that eventually corralled some 40,000 gallons of oil that Exxon purchased.