Hagens Berman successfully represented a class of plaintiffs in a lawsuit stemming from the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill. The spill occurred when the ship crashed into an Alaskan reef in 1989, sending nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and negligently harming the well-being of natives, workers and marine life for years to come. Hagens Berman’s clients received a multimillion-dollar award in the case against Exxon, which helped shape the future of U.S. environmental and shipping policy.
THE VALDEZ SPILL AND EXXON’S NEGLIGENCE
On March 24, 1989, a single-hulled oil tanker called the Exxon Valdez crashed into a reef off the coast of Alaska around midnight. The damaged ship proceeded to spill 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. At the time, it was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The spill covered 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline and required an unprecedented, multi-year cleanup effort. The environmental catastrophe resulted in the deaths of countless birds, otters, seals and whales – and created a crisis for fishermen and natives who relied on Alaska’s coastal bounty to work, eat and survive.
Among the factors believed to have contributed to the crash was the sobriety of the ship’s captain, Joseph Hazelwood, who had ceded control of the Exxon Valdez to a third mate at the time of the crash. In a 2002 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russell Holland chastised Exxon for allowing “a relapsed alcoholic to direct the operation of the Exxon Valdez through Prince William Sound.”
Hazelwood eventually apologized to the Alaskan people, admitting that he “had a couple of drinks” 12 hours before the mishap, but maintained that his level of inebriation had been overstated and wrongly singled out.
EXXON’S PENALTY & ENVIRONMENTAL LEGACY
More than 30,000 people filed a class-action lawsuit against Exxon, with Hagens Berman among the top firms representing plaintiffs whose lives were gravely impacted.
After nearly two decades of litigation, the total award to plaintiffs ultimately topped $1.5 billion, compensating class members for their life-changing losses. Moreover, the case helped guide U.S. environmental and shipping policy into far safer waters, with ensuing legislation requiring all tankers to be double-hulled and subject to more stringent inspections and restrictions.
TOP ENVIRONMENTAL LAW FIRM
Hagens Berman believes that protecting and repairing our environment from damage caused by irresponsible and illegal practices is some of the most rewarding work a law firm can do. Our firm has established an internationally recognized environmental litigation practice. Notable cases include representing homeowners exposed to arsenic and lead pollutants from Asarco smelters, stopping Dole from degrading drinking water in Guatemala and fighting against a surge of dirty diesel cars illegally put on highways by the nation’s largest automakers. Furthermore, Hagens Berman represents a municipality and county in lawsuits filed against BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and ConocoPhillips alleging that the Big Oil giants are responsible for the costs of protecting themselves from global warming-induced sea level rise.