A New Hampshire jury found oil giant Exxon Mobil guilty in a groundwater contamination case, finding that the company was negligent in preventing the spread of the harmful gasoline additive MTBE.
Exxon Mobil now faces what could be up to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages they will be forced to pay to New Hampshire in order to clean up the mess. The jury will deliberate again to decide the extent of damages for which Exxon Mobil will be held accountable.
The trial was the longest in the state’s history, lasting three months, during which jurors had to sit for long hours of testimony and about 400 exhibits. The state now seeks $236 million in damages from Exxon Mobil in order to clean and monitor the groundwater that was contaminated by MTBE.
In addition to finding Exxon Mobil negligent, they are also holding the company liable for not adequately warning distributors about the additive and its harmful characteristics.
Back in 1991, the state decided to adopt the reformulated gasoline (RFG) program in order to help reduce smog but was, as the jury determined, unaware of the hazards of the MTBE additive.
The Exxon Mobil lawyers claimed that the additive was in the gasoline in order to meet Clear Air Act federally mandated standards for air pollution, and cannot be held responsible for the sites where third parties — junk yards or independent gas station owners, for example — should be held liable for contamination of the ground water.
Currently, the jury is deciding to what degree these third parties could be held responsible in order to reduce the damages Exxon Mobil will have to pay.