CONCORD, N.H. - (Mealey's) A state court jury in New Hampshire on April 9 found that ExxonMobil Corp. was negligent in adding methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) to gasoline and that it should pay $236 million to remediate groundwater contamination caused by the additive (State of New Hampshire v. Hess Corporation, et al., No. 03-C-0550, N.H. Super., Merrimack Co.).
(Verdict form available. Document #08-130412-026V.)
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before reaching its decision, sources told Mealey Publications, and the $236 million award against ExxonMobil was the result of share-of-market liability. The jury concluded that total damages resulting from groundwater contaminated by MTBE was $816,768,018 and that ExxonMobil's market share from MTBE-containing gasoline from 1998 until 2005 was 28.94 percent.
The State of New Hampshire sued ExxonMobil and other makers of MTBE-containing gasoline in 2003 in order to monitor and remediate groundwater contaminated by the substance. The suit was later removed and transferred to the multidistrict litigation court in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case was later remanded to New Hampshire's Merrimack County Superior Court.
The state asserted that more than 600 wells in New Hampshire are contaminated and presented evidence from experts estimating that more than 5,000 wells could be affected. ExxonMobil argued during the trial, which began Jan. 14 before Superior Court Justice Peter H. Fauver, that it added MTBE to gasoline to meet Clean Air Act requirements and reduce pollution.
The jury concluded that ExxonMobil was negligent in adding MTBE to gasoline, that the addition of the substance created a defective condition that was unreasonably dangerous and that the company did not comply with the state of the art by adding MTBE to gasoline. The jury further found that ExxonMobil failed to adequately warn about the risks of MTBE-containing gasoline and that the company was unable to prove that the state could have known about the risks of MTBE.
Jessica Grant of Sher Leff in San Francisco is counsel for the state. David Lender and James Quinn of Weil Gotshal & Manges in New York represent ExxonMobil.
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