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Vol. 12, No. 51 Week of December 23, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Lawyers prepare clients for payouts

The Associated Press

Lawyers are meeting with their clients in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case to ready them for any decision from the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the award of punitive damages.

Matt Jamin and Andrew Ott, attorneys for the plaintiffs, met with approximately 60 claimants in Kodiak Dec. 15 for an update on litigation in the 19-year-old Exxon case and to hear how to best invest any money awarded. Ott said the meeting was well-attended by clients, all of whom are awaiting word on what the court will decide.

Jamin was in Anchorage Dec. 17 meeting with other claimants there.

The high court stepped into the long-running battle over the damages that Exxon Mobil owes from the supertanker accident in Prince William Sound that was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is arguing that the $2.5 billion in punitive damages plaintiffs are seeking should not be awarded.

The award, even after it was cut in half by a federal appeals court in December, would be the largest punitive damages judgment ever. A jury in Alaska awarded $5 billion in damages in 1994 and the company has been appealing the verdict ever since.

There are approximately 30,000 claimants in the case, including fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Natives, local governments and businesses.

Once the Exxon brief is filed with the court, plaintiffs will file their arguments Jan. 29, with oral arguments to begin before mid-February. A final decision could be rendered by the middle of next year.

Tax legislation for claimants

While the Supreme Court is considering legal motions in the case, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski won Senate approval Dec. 14 regarding tax legislation to give individual plaintiffs the ability to increase retirement contributions and to provide tax relief through income averaging.

The legislation was included as an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill that passed Dec. 14 and is now headed for approval in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The legislation was drafted to cover any possible settlement while the case is in litigation and any amounts received under the judgment if it is upheld. Under the Murkowski bill, fishermen would be able to average payouts over three years.

The bill also permits individual plaintiffs to contribute up to $100,000 to a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, and various other retirement plans.

The bill also exempts plaintiffs from having to pay self-employment taxes or payroll taxes on any payouts from the case.



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