February 18, 2008

Cornell Previews Exxon Valdez Oral Argument

Cornell University's Legal Information Institute has prepared this excellent summary and preview of the Exxon Valdez case scheduled to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on February 27, 2008. The preview concludes with this assessment: "The first question for the Court is when a shipowner can be held liable for punitive damages for a ship master’s tort. In answering this, the Court will resolve disagreement among the circuits. However, the question has a case-specific complication: Exxon’s possible independent liability. The second question—whether CWA displaces punitive damages under maritime law—may have little significance beyond this case. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, not the CWA, is now the controlling statute in oil spill cases. Nevertheless, resolving the second question in Exxon’s favor may enable the court to avoid sending the case back for further factfinding if Exxon’s independent liability proves pivotal to judgment on Question 1."