By Mike Schuh

TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — A Baltimore County jury is deciding what could be the biggest damages ever awarded in Maryland.  As Mike Schuh reports, the jury found that Exxon knowingly committed fraud after its gas station in Jacksonville leaked 26,000 gallons of gas.

Six months ago, at the start of this trial, Exxon apologized for allowing 26,000 gallons of gas to leak from a gas station in 2006.  The gas ruined drinking water wells and affected property values, so it’s little surprise that after a six month trial, a Baltimore County jury awarded nearly $500 million to the 150 homeowners who sued, an average of $2.5 to $3 million per family.

So what’s important here is that the jury found that Exxon committed fraud, they deliberately misled the public and the state about the extent of the problem and the cleanup.  Proving fraud in Maryland is very difficult.

“The last article I read said that Wisconsin and Maryland are the two most difficult states of the 43 that permit punitive damages, so it’s tough in Maryland,” said law professor Byron Warnken.

The finding by the jury of fraud against Exxon, five counts, is very important because now the company can be punished.  That punishment comes in the form of money, possibly a billion dollars—possibly the largest punishment in Maryland.

“Punitive damages is basically giving you something you don’t deserve because we already covered you with compensatory, in order to punish people like that so you don’t do it again,” Warnken said.

In finding against Exxon, the jury had to clear a high hurdle.

“It’s more than negligence, more than gross negligence…it’s an intentional wrongdoing trying to harm people,” Warnken said.

The jury has already decided to punish Exxon and they are deliberating how big that punishment will be.  Any number has to be signed off on by the judge in the case.

This award could be so big that legal analysts say this is a case with potential to go to the US Supreme Court.


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