After losing a nearly three-month trial to the tune of $236 million, Exxon Mobil Corp. (“Exxon”) will appeal the jury verdict issued in the New Hampshire Superior Court. After a speedy deliberation, the jury found Exxon negligent in its use of methyl tertiary butyl ether (“MTBE”), a chemical Exxon added to its gasoline.
Although MBTE was added to gasoline to reduce smog, it had the unintended consequence of migrating in groundwater more rapidly and further than gasoline not containing MTBE. This fact, and a volume of other evidence, convinced the jury that Exxon had created a defective product and that Exxon negligently failed to warn distributors and consumers about MTBE’s hazardous qualities.
Exxon argued unsuccessfully that there were more than 300 entities, including New Hampshire, that contributed to the contamination and that should share the liability. Exxon’s argument that it added MTBE to comply with Clean Air Act air quality standards also failed to persuade the jury.
The jury’s $236 million verdict in favor of New Hampshire stands among the top jury verdicts issued this year and is the largest verdict ever awarded to the State of New Hampshire. Even with this quarter of a billion dollar award, it could have been worse for Exxon. The jury initially proposed an award exceeding $800 million, but the trial court adjusted the award to mirror Exxon’s stake in the New Hampshire gas market between 1988 and 2005.
Because Exxon plans to appeal the verdict, it is unlikely that any money will change hands in the near future.