CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's longest and most complex trial to date on groundwater pollution by the gasoline additive MTBE is far from over.
Although a jury returned a verdict in early April awarding the state all $236 million it was seeking against Exxon Mobil Corp., the case is now awash in post-verdict motions by both sides — including one by Exxon Mobil to set aside the verdict and order a new trial.
Since April 1, two fat new file folders have been added to the decade-old case's voluminous paper trail and more briefs are due by June 10. No hearing date has been set.
Lawyers for Exxon Mobil said after the verdict was returned that they will appeal, but they haven't yet filed any notices with the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The pending motions must be dealt with before the verdicts are validated by a final order from Superior Court Judge Peter Fauver.
The damages award in the product liability and failure to warn case is the largest by far in state history. Attorneys for the state said it would be used to test private and public wells and remediate those contaminated with MTBE, which travels farther and faster and contaminates larger volumes of water than traditional gasoline with no additives.
Lawyers for Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil base their motions to set aside the verdict on a range of issues. They claim MTBE was not a defective product and performed as it was designed to do by reducing smog. They say the case should never have been tried on a statewide basis. They also allege there was juror misconduct — citing the jury's stunningly swift verdicts on liability and damages.
The jurors reached their verdicts in less than 90 minutes, after sitting through more than three months of testimony from nearly 40 witnesses. Lawyers on both sides were stunned by the speed with which they reached the verdict on liability and even more stunned when the jurors took barely 20 minutes more to fill out the separate damages verdict.
Exxon Mobil attorney David Pinsonneault said in his motion to set aside the verdict for juror misconduct that jurors either didn't deliberate the case or were deliberating all along, contrary to the judge's daily instructions.
Lawyers for the state have filed motions asking the judge to assess Exxon Mobil an additional $4.4 million for expenses the state incurred in litigating the case, including $1.4 million paid to its lead expert witness — hydrologist Graham Fogg.
Exxon filed a motion seeking establishment of a court-supervised trust fund before any damages are paid to the state.
Attorneys for the state object to the trust fund. They have acknowledged they will receive no funds until the state Supreme Court rules on the anticipated appeal.
- Company Legal & Law Matters