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Exxon hit with $1B more in damages

H. Russell Smouse, Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been hit with $1 billion in punitive damages for a 2006 gasoline leak in rural Baltimore County, sources close to the litigation said.

That’s in addition to about $495 million in compensatory damage awards that were made public Wednesday.

All told, compensatory and punitive damages come to $1.542 billion, said the sources, who requested anonymity because the figure has not yet been released by Baltimore County Circuit Court.

The jury of six women deliberated for two days on the amount of punitive damages in the suit by 160 households and businesses in the area. The amounts were entered on verdict sheets, but not read aloud in court, about 5:15 Thursday.

Clerk of the Court Julie L. Ensor gave reporters copies of the first 36 punitive damage verdict sheets Thursday night but said the entire binder would not be available for viewing until Friday.

Those 36 awards amounted to more than $320 million. The amounts varied from more than $38 million for one plaintiff with multiple properties to $50,000.

Jurors have been hearing the case since January.

Judge Robert N. Dugan choked up as he thanked them for their service before dismissing them, concluding the six-month trial that stemmed from a 25,000-gallon-plus gasoline leak that went undetected for more than five weeks.

The jurors declined to speak to reporters as they left the courthouse.

Many Jacksonville residents applauded the jurors as they left the courtroom and then exchanged hugs with one another and their lawyers from The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos PC in Baltimore.

“This is the way the system should work,” said a relieved-looking Theodore M. Flerlage Jr., the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, outside the courthouse.

“We had a powerful case for punitive damages,” added H. Russell Smouse, Flerlage’s colleague.

An Exxon spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company had “no choice but to appeal.”

“Exxon Mobil did not engage in fraud or deliberate misconduct,” Rachel L. Moore wrote. “This was an accident, as the jury found in the 2009 Alban case.”

Moore was referring to the first mass-action lawsuit concerning the spill, in which the lead lawyers were Stephen L. Snyder and Robert J. Weltchek. A jury in 2009 awarded the 88 households in the Alban group $150 million in compensatory damages but no punitive damages.

“They obviously did a tremendous job,” Snyder said late Thursday, adding that he wishes them the best on the appeal. The Alban verdicts also are on appeal.

The 160 households and businesses in the second lawsuit, represented by the Angelos firm, are known collectively as the Allison group. The two groups do not overlap.

Thursday’s punitive awards cover intentional misconduct by Exxon, including misrepresentations in information it gave county officials and the Maryland Department of the Environment. Jurors also faulted the company for not mentioning the leak on a sign that was posted for a few days on the site, which said the station was “Closed for Upgrades.”

The jurors awarded compensatory damages for diminution of property value, past loss of use and enjoyment, fear of cancer, fear of loss of property value and medical monitoring, although not all plaintiffs sought damages in every category.

The awards for individual plaintiffs appeared to follow a rough template. Plaintiffs received a portion of the assessed value of their homes prior to the leak and, on average, $750,000 for fear of cancer, $250,000 for fear of property value loss and $500,000 for past loss of use and enjoyment. Medical monitoring awards ranged from less than $10,000 to more than $1 million.

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