Exxon Corp. went into state and federal courthouses Tuesday to answer some 140 lawsuits brought around southcentral Alaska over the Exxon Valdez oil spill and argue that all the plaintiffs should get nothing.
Aside from responding to the specific allegations in each of the lawsuits, the Exxon answers are also its opening shots to the defenses it plans to assert should any of the cases go to trial.
Several consistent themes ran through all or most of the answers:
* Claims for lost earnings, such as by fishermen or cannery workers, should be offset by money that workers earned by participating in the spill cleanup.
* Other parties share in the blame for what happened, and they should also be held liable.
* Tortreform measures passed by the state legislature should limit Exxon's payments.
* A punitive damage award in one case should bar similar awards in others.
* Exxon conducted the cleanup under direction of government officials and shouldn't be held responsible for their decisions and priorities.
* Maritime law strictly limits payment of damages to those who can prove direct physical injury to property.
One of Exxon's lawyers, Dick Clinton, said Tuesday in Seattle that Exxon is pursuing a strategy of encouraging the plaintiffs to settle their claims before trial by making it as difficult as possible to win in court.
"If people want to litigate, we'll have to litigate and use all the vehicles we have," he said.
John Clough, another Exxon attorney, said Exxon has been committed to settle claims before they reach the lawsuit stage to avoid costly and protracted litigation. "I've been real impressed with their absolute commitment to work with people," he said.
The answers filed Tuesday don't indicate yet whether Exxon will attempt to use another aspect of admiralty law that limits some kinds of liability to the salvage value of the ship that caused the damage. That limitation action doesn't have to be filed until September.