At the beginning of a closing statement that he predicted would last the better part of two days, a lawyer representing 300 plaintiffs who are suing ExxonMobil Corp. said yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court that their community was "forever changed" by a huge gasoline leak three years ago.
The spill, at a service station in Jacksonville, dumped more than 26,000 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline into the groundwater that supplied the area's wells. The plaintiffs, who are seeking at least $1 billion from the oil giant, claim that their physical and emotional health had been damaged and their property values have been ruined. The trial began in October.
"This was no accident, and Exxon deserves to be punished," the plaintiffs' lawyer, Stephen L. Snyder, told the jury. He said company officials knew the leak-detection equipment it used was inadequate but "deliberately ignored the potential for injury." He said, "This was a disaster that was foreseeable to Exxon."
In a packed Towson courtroom, Snyder said testimony had shown that Exxon officials in Britain had made sure earlier that they ordered different, up-to-date leak detectors installed in the gas stations there, in contrast to what occurred in Jacksonville.
Snyder said during the trial that he was seeking to counter ExxonMobil's claim that human error caused the spill, and not years of neglect of the system as the plaintiffs allege.
A lawyer for ExxonMobil said earlier that while the company accepted liability for actual, proven harm, it did not commit fraud or act with "intentional malice" or negligence.
Last year, the company agreed to pay the state $4 million for the spill.