A Baltimore County jury has awarded more than $495 million in compensatory damages to Jacksonville residents who sued Exxon Mobil Corp. over a 2006 gasoline leak.
The six female jurors deliberated on punitive damages for six hours Wednesday afternoon until they were dismissed at 7:30 p.m. by Judge Robert N. Dugan. They will continue deliberations Thursday morning.
While they deliberated, Dugan allowed reporters to review six binders filled with compensatory verdict sheets for each of the 160 plaintiff households or businesses.
Each verdict sheet averaged about 20 pages. The jury found Exxon Mobil liable for fraud, negligence, nuisance, strict liability, trespass, diminution of property value, emotional distress and medical monitoring. The emotional distress claim included fear of cancer and other serious diseases and fear of loss of property value.
The jury also found Exxon Mobil liable for past loss of use and enjoyment of the plaintiffs’ properties from February 2006, when the 25,000-plus-gallon leak was discovered, through January 2011, when the six-month trial began.
The total compensatory damages award, based on reporters’ calculations, was $495,574,009. That’s more than three times the amount of compensatory damages a jury in March 2009 awarded to 88 plaintiff households, collectively known as the Alban plaintiffs, in the first trial stemming from the gasoline leak.
Lawyers from The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos PC in Baltimore, who represent the Allison plaintiffs in the second trial, and lawyers from Exxon Mobil are under a court-imposed gag order until the jurors are dismissed.
An in-depth review of two binders with 56 plaintiff parties — 154 individuals, estate representatives and businesses — revealed more than $172 million in compensatory damages. The jurors awarded 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.
According to the verdict sheet, damages for fraud, negligence, nuisance, strict liability and trespass are to be addressed in the punitive award.
The awards for individual plaintiffs appeared to follow a rough template. Plaintiffs received 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 $1.3 million to $9,340 in the two binders. Children on average received more than their parents, with some children receiving more than $100,000.
For the 56 parties, the jury awarded a total of $22 million for diminution of property value, $53 million for past loss of use and enjoyment, $69 million for fear of cancer, $15 million for fear of property loss and $13 million for medical monitoring.
Individual family awards in the two binders ranged from $9 million to $192,000. The largest individual award overall appeared to be nearly $14 million to a plaintiff with multiple properties.
How much the punitive damages will add to the compensatory total remains to be seen. The jurors started deliberating on punitive damages at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Charles G. Bernstein, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, suggested to jurors Tuesday that the amount should be “three-to-five times” the amount of compensatory damages.
James F. Sanders, Exxon Mobil’s lead lawyer, noted the company was fined $4 million by the Maryland Department of the Environment in 2008. Based on state regulations, he added, the maximum fine the company could have faced for the leak was $17 million.
Once the jury decides on punitive damages, the amounts will be compiled into a separate, seventh binder.