The 12 federal jurors deciding the Exxon case will travel by helicopter to Prince William Sound to see four to six sites hit by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. "The court decided to grant the request to visit impacted areas and to let them come up with their own conclusions," Exxon spokesman Jim Sheeren said Wednesday. "We have scheduled helicopters and got the necessary permits to get to the sites that have been chosen." Sheeren said the location of the sites is being kept confidential.
Tentatively, jurors and representatives from Exxon, plaintiffs' attorneys and court officials will take a day trip to the Sound after the jurors come back with a verdict in phase two of the lengthy trial but before they begin hearing testimony in phase three.
Court records show that a one-page form was sent into the room where jurors were deliberating to complete in preparation for the trip. The forms ask each juror's boot size, jacket size and whether they prefer ham, turkey, beef, pastrami, tuna, vegetarian or kosher sandwiches.
"The details haven't been completely worked out," said Brian O'Neill, an attorney representing 12,000 plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Exxon. "A lot of it depends on weather."
The jury listened to three weeks of testimony and went home Wednesday after their 12th day of deliberation without deciding how much Exxon owes 10,000 commercial fishermen for actual damage done by the spill. The fishermen are asking for $895 million; Exxon attorneys said they are owed no more than $113 million.
In Phase 1 of the long trial, the jury decided that Exxon and Capt. Joe Hazelwood should be liable for punitive damages because they acted recklessly in the 1989 grounding of the oil tanker. During Phase 3 of the trial, the jury will decide the amount of punitive damages. The plaintiffs which include fishermen, Natives, coastal communities, Native corporations and land owners are asking for $15 billion. In state court, a separate jury is currently listening to testimony about damage suffered by a dozen Native corporations and coastal communities.
Earlier this month, while the federal jurors were listening to testimony about the actual damages suffered by the fishermen, they passed a note to U.S. District Court Judge Russel Holland asking to take a field trip to the Sound. Holland turned down their request, saying he did not see how that would help them in their deliberations.
However, Holland said he would consider letting them travel to the Sound during Phase 3 of the trial, which will concentrate on punitive damages assessed against Exxon.
Both Exxon and the plaintiffs' attorneys said they favored the jury visiting the Sound.
Jim Sanders, an attorney for Exxon, said the oil company began the federal trial by suggesting to the court that the jury visit the Sound. Plaintiffs' attorney Brian O'Neill said, "I want whatever the jury wants."