A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I saw this on a personalized license plate the day before the verdict came out from the Supreme Court regarding the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and thought it was great, but it was something I would have easily forgotten.  Then the next day, the entire state of Alaska got pissed off all at once.  Now, I have not read the decision, but I have read a summary of their explanation.  The decision limits punative damages to an amount equal to the compensatory damages ONLY in cases involving maritime law.  I never took a class in admiralty law, and have not dug out my notes from my law school classes in remedies, but this seems to be a drastic departure from current punitive damages cases, and a very narrow decision that only affects... Exxon. 
Let's talk a moment about McDonald's, specifically Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants.  A woman spilled hot McDonald's coffee on her lap.  She was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, including medical bills, pain and suffering, etc. She was then awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.  Later, the appeals court reduced her punitive damages award to $480,000, more than twice the compensatory damages.
in Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007), the Court's decision was based on the idea that more reprehensible misconduct justifies a larger punitive damage award.  Let's think about this a little bit.  So, McDonald's had to pay more than twice the compensatory damages for a woman that spilled hot coffee on her lap while trying to add cream and sugar holding the cup between her legs.  The court found that the woman was partially at fault, and she was still awarded more than twice the compensatory damages in punitive damages.  But Exxon, whose drunk boat pilot ran aground and spilled millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, effectively damaging hundreds of miles of coastline and completely trashing an ecosystem, only has to pay an amount equal to compensatory damages, even though they were clearly wholly at fault????  WTF?
Exxon argues that they paid their money, fixed the problem, cleaned up the mess. Baloney.  There are still shellfish fishermen pulling up globs of oil from the ground under Prince William Sound. The fishing has still not recovered. The mess is still there.
It amazes me that the 9 people entrusted by the citizens of the United States to DO THE RIGHT THING, all the time, can put the interests of a huge corporation, who makes the largest profits that any corporation has ever made (in case we have forgotten, $40 billion in one quarter), ahead of 600,000 people living in the State of Alaska, who would very much like to be able to swim, fish, live in and around Prince William Sound without worrying about contamination from oil.  Who can't catch enough fish anymore to even make it worth putting the boats in the water.
The entire idea of punitive damages is to PUNISH the corporation, so they think twice next time.  What are they going to think about $500 million in punitives? 1/80th of the amount of their profits in one quarter?  No biggie.  Makes me feel like the U.S. Supreme Court thinks of Alaska not as a state with many American citizens that they should be protecting, but as a pretty cheap whore. Thanks, guys.
Exxon Sucks.

1 comment:

Kati said...

The more I think about the way our fair state is treated by the government, and the corporations that rule the government (because that's who REALLY run's the government, not the people, but the companies with $$), the more I think Alaskans should seriously consider, once again, seceeding from the USA. As a sovereign nation, Alaskans would have more power over our resources, and we could tell the big companies where to step-off, if they don't like OUR terms. Some things would be harder (production, military security) but there are definitely other matters that I think make it worth serious consideration.

*sigh* Too bad this option seems to have slipped from the minds of most Alaskans.

I did get a chuckle out of the license plate that you listed.