Maryland Court of Appeals Reverses More Than $1.5 Billion in Damages Against Firm Client ExxonMobil

March 5, 2013

A team of McGuireWoods attorneys in the firm’s Baltimore office successfully represented firm client ExxonMobil in its appeals of more than $1.5 billion in verdicts rendered by juries in two cases stemming from a 2006 underground gasoline leak at a service station located in Jacksonville, Maryland. Plaintiffs claimed contamination of their water supply with MTBE, a gasoline additive and claimed that MTBE was a carcinogen.

In ExxonMobil v. Albright, a unanimous Court of Appeals of Maryland struck down plaintiffs’ punitive damages award based on their failure to prove fraud. In addition, the Court of Appeals reversed over $200 million in compensatory damages awards based on holdings that (1) plaintiffs, with only one exception, were not entitled to damages for emotional distress for fear of contracting cancer; and (2) plaintiffs were not entitled to damages for the cost of future medical monitoring. The Court of Appeals reversed the remaining claims for property damages for those plaintiffs unable to demonstrate actual contamination of their properties, and reversed and remanded, based on the improper submission of expert testimony, those property damage claims where there were detectible levels of MTBE.

In a companion case, ExxonMobil v. Ford, the Court of Appeals reversed all judgments for emotional distress and medical monitoring damages, as well as all awards of property damages to all plaintiffs who could not prove actual contamination of their property. The Court reversed and remanded remaining property damage claims where there were detectible levels of MTBE for a new trial rejecting the juries’ determination that the properties “became worthless in terms of market value as a result of the leak.” In sum, the approximately $147 million jury verdict was reversed in its entirety.

Partner Ava Lias-Booker led the McGuireWoods team on this matter and argued the fear of cancer and medical monitoring issues on behalf of ExxonMobil. Other team members who worked on the brief and oral argument preparation included associates Ben Yhim, J.C. Armstrong and Melissa Martinez and paralegal Laura Corcoran and legal support coordinator Gina Trasatti. McGuireWoods was co-counsel in the case along with DLA Piper.