ExxonMobil Tells High Court Exxon Valdez Captain was to Blame  

One of the issues the U.S. justices are weighing is whether Exxon can be held liable for the actions of Captain Joseph Hazelwood, who left the deck while on duty, which is against company regulations. Prosecutors also maintained that Hazelwood was drunk when the ship ran aground on March 24, 1989, although he has denied the charge and was acquitted in criminal court.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs maintain that Exxon is responsible for the actions of its employees because they can hire competent people. The plaintiffs argue that the oil company knew that Hazelwood was an alcoholic who was drinking while on duty -- “Apart from adopting a drinking policy, the company needs to implement it,” the attorney said.

Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that after the accident, only the captain was fired, and everyone in the chain of command received bonuses. The case dates back to March 24, 1989, and Exxon says it spent approximately $2.1 billion in cleanup and for compensation for the local fishermen and Alaskan locals that were affected by the accident.

A University of Alaska study stated that only a quarter of the marine life affected by the spill survived.

The plaintiffs were originally awarded $5 billion in punitive damages in U.S. District Court, but after a series of appeals, the award has been cut to $2.5 billion. Exxon also paid more than $900 million in fines to the federal government and the state of Alaska.

Published in the Maritime Executive Magazine
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