Judge upholds jury's decision in Exxon trial
Jacksonville families 'ecstatic'
By Pat van den Beemt
About 89 Jacksonville families should find out next month whether they are any closer to receiving almost $150 million awarded by a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury as a result of a 26,000-gallon gasoline leak from an Exxon gas station on Jarrettsville Pike in 2006.
The awards were appealed in April when lawyers for ExxonMobil filed post-trial motions following the five-month trial. On Sept. 9, Judge Maurice Baldwin, a retired Harford County judge brought in to preside over the trial, affirmed most of the jury’s decision.
He reduced the awards between $3 million and $4 million by reducing the amounts given to four families whose houses sold after the leak was discovered, and to two families whose awards exceeded the state’s cap on damages, said Stephen Snyder, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
“Judge Baldwin affirmed that the jury’s decision is sacrosanct as long as it is supported by the evidence,” Snyder said. “Our clients are ecstatic. A good corporate citizen should step up to the plate, pay these people and let them get on with their lives. This represents less than one day’s profit for Exxon.”
ExxonMobil has 30 days to appeal.
“The ultimate decision as to whether to appeal has not officially been made,” said James Sanders, ExxonMobil's lead counsel, whose office is in Tennessee. “I respectfully disagree with the decision, so in my opinion, we will appeal.”
Snyder said that if ExxonMobil appeals, he will file a cross-appeal on the issue of fraud.
The two-man, four-woman jury did not award any punitive damages to the plaintiffs based on a finding of fraud.
To do so, the jury would have needed to find that ExxonMobil committed fraud in covering up what it knew about the leak.
Bobby Babcock, a plaintiff who sat through most of the five-month trial, said everything he heard in court would be “a pack of lies” if Exxon appeals the awards.
“They said over and over and over to the jury, ‘You tell us what we should pay.’ Now the jury has told them. They should just pay up.”
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