New Hampshire Jury Awards State $236M in methyl tert-butyl (MTBE) Case
Approximately six weeks after getting the Maryland Supreme Court to agree that nearly all of the $1.6 billion in damages awarded by lower courts should be overturned, Exxon Mobil Corporation found itself facing a new toxic tort jury award, this one in favor of the State of New Hampshire in the amount of $236 million. The jury found ExxonMobil responsible for groundwater clean-up costs allegedly associated with the gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (“MTBE”). New Hampshire v. Hess Corp., No. 03-C-0550 (N.H. Sup. Ct. Apr. 9, 2013), available at www.bdlaw.com/assets/attachments/Hess.pdf. The jury found in favor of the State on its failure to warn, design defect and negligence claims.
New Hampshire claims it will have to spend $816 million for environmental testing and cleanup costs related to the MTBE. The state, which sued 16 companies over MTBE, had settled its claims with all of the other defendants by the time the trial ended. New Hampshire claimed that ExxonMobil, the sole remaining defendant, had a market share in the state of approximately 29%. The jury awarded the state 29% of its total alleged damages, which amounted to $236 million.
Among other things, ExxonMobil had argued that that the dangers of MTBE were well-known (and therefore warnings were not required), that it had adequately warned distributors about the risks of gasoline containing MTBE, and that the state voluntarily joined the reformulated gasoline program in an effort to improve air quality, which resulted in the use of greater quantities of gasoline containing MTBE in the state. The company has said it will appeal the verdict on the grounds that erroneous rulings before and during the three-month trial kept the jury from hearing all of the evidence and deprived it of a fair trial.