In Court

Published: Wednesday 31 January 2007

US court lowers Penalty: In one of the longest-running non-criminal cases in US legal history, for the third time a US appeals court has ordered to cut down around US $2 billion from the US $4.5 billion that was to be paid as punitive damages by Exxon Mobil for an oil spill. In December 2006, the San Francisco-based US ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the earlier penalty was too harsh compared to the economic harm caused by the 1989 spill off Alaska. The court said the company's prompt action to clean up the oil and compensate fisherfolk and others for economic losses lowered the reprehensibility of Exxon's conduct. In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker had spilled oil across roughly 2,413 kms of the Alaskan coastline. In 1994, a jury of the municipality of Anchorage in Alaska had awarded US $5 billion as punitive damages to 34,000 fisherfolk and other Alaskans that was later reduced. "This case is not about compensating people for damages. Rather, the ruling is about whether punitive damages are warranted in this case. The US Supreme Court needs to provide more definitive guidance to the lower courts on the law governing punitive damages," said Robert H Davis, spokesperson for Exxon Mobil.

sea wall to check erosion: The New Zealand Environment Court has allowed the construction of a controversial sea wall that was to check erosion at the Foxton Beach car park in the Horowhenua district of New Zealand. Some changes have been made in the original design of the wall. The trial section of the sea wall was made without obtaining resource consent, an environment clearance needed to carry out activities in restricted or controlled areas. There was opposition to the wall since local residents did not want the use of man-made materials on the beachfront and also because it might affect the surrounding sand dunes.

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