Federal appeals court allows damages against Chevron for Ecuador oil spill

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan on Sept. 19 lifted an injunction on damages levied against US oil giant Chevron, making the company potentially liable for $8.6 billion in compensation to Ecuadoran citizens for an oil spill in the 1990s. The award will not be granted immediately, pending appeals in Ecuador and a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Chevron responded by insisting it is the victim of fraud: “There is no legitimate evidence supporting any finding of liability against Chevron because Texaco Petroleum Company cleaned up its share of environmental impacts in Ecuador and the remaining impacts are the responsibility of the government of Ecuador and its state-owned oil company, Petroecuador.” Jim Tyrrell, attorney for the Ecuadorans, countered: “We are very excited that the court has reached this decision. It represents a triumph of the rule of law over the sensationalism created by Chevron’s PR department.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 20)

Damages were initially awarded in February by the Provincial Court of Sucumbios in Ecuador, finding that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, polluted large areas of the country’s rain forest. That month, Chevron filed a suit against plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants in the case, claiming that professionals for the plaintiffs were attempting to extort Chevron. The damages were then enjoined in New York in March. In July, the Second Circuit upheld a May ruling by the Southern District of New York ordering filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron certain outtakes from his 2009 documentary Crude. Chevron claims the outtakes show plaintiffs’ lawyers discussing illegal and unethical tactics, including ghost-writing a court-appointed expert’s report, intimidating a judge and colluding with government officials. Chevron claims that a 1995 cleanup agreement between Ecuador and Texaco, completed in 1998 at a cost of $40 million, absolves Chevron of all liability.

From Jurist, Sept. 21. Used with permission.

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