The first tally of damage claims arising from the Exxon Valdez oil spill comes to $59 billion, with 11,105 claims filed, according to court documents Thursday.
A flood of new claims has more than doubled the number of damage claims that have been filed as a result of the 11 million-gallon Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, America's worst spill."There is some air of unreality to the dollar amount," said Stephen Hut Jr., a lawyer representing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Liability Fund, which is sifting through mounds of complaints at the request of the federal court.
U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland had instructed everyone suing Exxon to submit damage claims to the pipeline liability fund for possible payout before the court considered the numerous suits.
The many suits mention no dollar amounts though it was widely believed that damage claims went into the billions. But claims filed with the pipeline liability fund were required to state a dollar amount of damages, thus offering the first documented accounting of damages by those seeking spill damages.
However, when Congress established the pipeline liability fund in 1973 - assessing oil company owners of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline 5 cents per barrel to create a $100 million fund to pay for spill damages - no one envisioned a spill as costly as the March 24, 1989, wreck of the Exxon Valdez has turned out to be.
"The amount claimed is far in excess of that fund," Hut noted. "We cannot pay until we know what everyone is entitled to."
Lawyers for the pipeline liability fund summarized all Exxon Valdez damage claims in a report filed in federal court Monday but they only became public three days later because of the huge volume of new documents submitted to the court in the Exxon case.
"The fund was deluged with claims" just before the March 25 deadline, doubling the number of claims that had been filed as of March 1, the fund report said.
Joining the crowd seeking damages were the state of Alaska, the U.S. government and five oil companies - including Exxon itself, which said it should be reimbursed $1.3 billion of the $2 billion it spent to clean up the spill.