HARD AGROUND - Wreck of the Exxon Valdez - March 24, 1989


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Daily News reporter

Anchorage Daily News
Date: 07/12/94
Day: Tuesday
Edition: Final
Section: Nation
Page: A1

ANCHORAGE- A jury must now decide whether 10,000 fishermen should be paid $895 million for damages they say the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused, or if they are due the roughly $100 million Exxon is willing to pay. The 12 federal jurors, who also can come up with their own figure, listened to five hours of closing arguments and instructions Monday. They are expected to begin deliberations at 8 a.m. today.

They were given a long verdict form with 25 questions, including: Did the spill cause lasting damage to Prince William Sound? Did the spill or a worldwide glut of salmon cause the price of fish to drop in 1989 to 1991? And, is the state's management of the Kenai River or the 1989 spill to blame for what is expected to be a red salmon crash on the river this year?

The commercial fishermen lost $136.5 million the year of the spill because they couldn't fish, said their attorney, Brian O'Neill. In the years that followed, they lost a total of $580.4 million because the spill tainted the reputation of Alaska salmon, he said. Damage to the ecosystem depleted fish stocks, costing them $154.8 million more. And the fishermen who tried to get out lost $23.3 million when they went to sell their fishing permits, he said.

"This case is about fishermen," O'Neill said, pointing to 30 or so plaintiffs and their families in the packed courtroom. "Oil and fish don't mix. The only ones who would come before you and say they mix is Exxon Corp."

O'Neill told the jurors: "What these guys did to these people is terrible. They are so big and powerful, you are all they (fishermen) have. You are the only ones that can stop them."

Exxon attorneys said the fishermen have some legitimate claims, but only from the year of the spill.

"We don't want to short change the fishermen," Exxon attorney Bart Cooper said. "But that doesn't mean Exxon should have to ren think fish should have sold for in the years after the spill.

But, Cooper said, fish prices were on the way down at the time of the spill. "It was inevitable that the sockeye prices were going to fall. The prices fell because of supply. The supplyo it is not surprising their value dropped. Cooper also argued that testimony proved the spill caused no lasting damage.

"Pink salmon, for eons, have been successfully using streams oiled by natural seeps," Cooper told the jury as he showed a video Sound the past two years is tied to biology, he said. "The sound was taxed to its capacity. Herring was on a downward trend well before the spill. The food supply was a problem."

During three weeks of testimony, the jurors listened to dozens of fishercof presenting expert witnesses who are on the company's payroll. He said the science they conducted was paid for by Exxon and was "inconclusive by design."

"They didn't want answers," O'Neill said.

Cooper said Exxon's case is based on sound sciethe same conclusions.

The same jurors who will decide who is telling the truth earlier listened to four weeks of testimony and deliberated for four days before deciding last month that the grounding of the Exxon Valdez was caused by the recklessness of with lawsuits pending against the oil company can seek punitive damages. They will ask for $15 billion during a third phase of the trial, which is expected to begin in early August.

This second phase of the trial deals only with actual damages suffernd Native subsistence users. Once the jury comes back with a decision on the fishermen's claims, they will listen to the Natives' claims.

Meanwhile, a separate jury in state court began listening last week to property damage claims filed by a dozen Nao reporters outside the Federal Building after completing closing arguments in Phase 2 of the Exxon trial.

Story Index:
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