The U.S. Supreme Court rejected on an appeal by Exxon Mobil Corp. over the $5 billion punitive damages verdict against it for the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident, the nation's worst oil spill. The justices let stand a U.S. appeals court ruling that
the award against the oil giant in a civil lawsuit brought by Alaskan fishermen and other plaintiffs should not be set aside because of irregularities during jury deliberations.
The appeal centered on the misconduct of court bailiff Don Warrick, who escorted the jury during the 1994 trial and the deliberations. A dissenting juror, Rita Wilson, had become emotionally distraught on the 32nd day of deliberations, right before the Labor Day weekend. When the jurors returned from the holiday weekend, Warrick approached another juror and said the jurors were "really having problems" with Wilson, the juror later testified at a hearing before the judge. The bailiff then pulled out his gun and took out one of its bullets and said something about "putting Rita out of her misery," the juror said. He said he took it as a tasteless joke rather than as a threat or serious suggestion.
The judge and then the appeals court ruled
that Exxon Mobil had failed to prove that the jury had been prejudiced by Warrick's misconduct.
In its Supreme Court appeal, Exxon Mobil said, "This case involves the fundamental right to a fair and impartial jury."