An Anchorage Superior Court judge has told the Exxon Corp. it does not have to pay a jury verdict of $9 million to six Native village corporations that claimed land damages from the Prince William Sound oil spill.
Judge Brian Shortell, who presided over the three-month civil lawsuit that ended in September, said the Native groups were not entitled to damages from Exxon because they already had been compensated by the trans-Alaska pipeline liability fund and through a settlement with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.
The corporations have received about $38 million from the fund and settlement, a plaintiffs' attorney said.
In a final judgment issued March 17, Shortell said the village corporations of Eyak, Tatitlek, Chugach Alaska, English Bay, Port Graham and Chenega had collected more money than the jury intended them to receive.
The tanker Exxon Valdez dumped nearly 11 million gallons of oil in 1989 and tarred hundreds of miles of Alaska coastline.
Shortell's ruling also bars the Native groups from trying the same issues again.
"The case is closed in terms of them receiving any money from Exxon," said John Clough, a Juneau-based lawyer who defended the company. "The legal principle is, no one should recover more than they were actually damaged."
Millions of dollars remain at stake, however, while the judge decides which side technically was the "prevailing party." Alaska law states that prevailing parties may collect costs and attorney fees from the losing side.
Anchorage lawyer Samuel Fortier, who represented the English Bay, Port Graham and Chenega tribal councils, said an appeal probably would be filed.
The trans-Alaska pipeline liability fund was set up by Congress as a first-line defense to compensate victims of oil spills. Native claims against Alyeska had alleged misrepresentation.