Since December, lawyers for plaintiffs in the epic Exxon Valdez oil spill case have been working to distribute $383 million in punitive damages to thousands of commercial fishermen and other claimants in various categories.
Now the lawyers are preparing to distribute an even bigger sum -- $470 million.
The money is interest Exxon Mobil Corp. paid July 1 on the punitive damages award the U.S. Supreme Court ordered last year.
David Oesting, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, has filed papers in U.S. District Court in Anchorage asking permission to begin handing out the interest money.
The full $470 million won't go out all at once. Distributing the money is tedious work, and the lawyers initially want to break off about $299 million of the interest for 17,297 claimants in 47 categories.
The distribution of damages and interest marks the final stage of an extraordinary legal battle that rattled through the federal courts for many years, angering plaintiffs more and more as time went by.
The U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2008, held that Exxon owed $507.5 million in punitive damages, a severe cut from the original $5 billion jury verdict in 1994.
But the high court ruling still wasn't the final word, as Exxon appeared to have additional legal options to further contest the case in the lower courts.
Ultimately, however, lawyers for Exxon and the plaintiffs worked a partial settlement under which Exxon in August 2008 paid $383 million. The two sides continue to battle at the appeals court level over another chunk of money.
Exxon agreed to pay the $470 million in interest after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled it was owed.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs must wait for Judge H. Russel Holland's OK before they can begin issuing checks and bank direct deposits for shares of the interest money.
It is not clear when the judge will issue an order.
Lawyers have posted lists of claimants and the gross amounts they are due to receive, before deduction of attorney fees. The lists are available at http://exspill.com.
Some fishermen are down for payments in excess of $100,000, with a few topping $200,000 and even $300,000.
By WESLEY LOY