Jury Finds Exxon Mobil Responsible for Contamination

On Oct. 19, a federal jury found Exxon Mobil Corporation responsible for polluting New York City's groundwater with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and awarded $104.7 million in compensatory damages.

Robert S. Chapman, partner of Greenberg Glusker, was lead trial counsel for the city.

The case, brought by the City of New York, was the first MTBE litigation in the country to go to trial and result in a verdict. According to the financial news agency Bloomberg, the City of New York’s verdict is the 13th largest jury verdict in the nation in 2009.

“Today, we achieved justice for the environment and improved safety for the people of New York,” said Chapman. He told Bloomberg that his argument to the jury came down to these simple questions, “Can Exxon pollute the city’s groundwater and get away with it? Can Exxon put MTBE into the city’s groundwater and have a license to pollute?”

During the 11-week trial, Chapman served as counsel along with attorney Victor Sher of Sher Leff, LLP, a San Francisco law firm that specializes in water quality cases, with overall case oversight by Susan Amron of the New York City Law Department.

In the action, the City of New York accused Exxon Mobil, the biggest U.S. oil company, of contaminating drinking water wells in the borough of Queens. It sued for the costs of removing MTBE from the water supply. Thirty-three oil companies previously settled similar contamination claims with New York. Exxon Mobil was the lone holdout defendant. According to the city, “The jury found Exxon liable for product liability for failure to warn people about the dangerous nature of its product as well as trespass, public nuisance, and negligence.”

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