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ExxonMobil Liable For New York City Water Contamination

Tue, 10/20/2009 - 5:33am

NEW YORK (PRNewswire) — A federal jury has unanimously held ExxonMobil liable for contaminating New York City's drinking water supply with the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). The jury awarded the City of New York a total of $105 million in compensatory damages after an 11-week trial.

The jury found that gasoline containing MTBE was not reasonably safe for its intended use in light of foreseeable harm to the environment and that gasoline containing MTBE was a defective product because ExxonMobil gave no warnings about the product's dangerous propensity to contaminate groundwater. The jury also found for New York City on its public nuisance, trespass and negligence claims.

MTBE is classified by EPA as a potential human carcinogen. MTBE has been banned in more than twenty-five states because of its adverse effects on drinking water.

New York City filed the case in 2003 against twenty-three major oil companies. The lawsuit claimed that the companies are responsible for MTBE contaminating drinking water wells in Queens. The wells are part of the city's supplemental drinking water supply system. Several of the nation's largest oil companies previously settled New York City's claims against them before trial started on August 3.

Victor Sher of the San Francisco-based law firm of Sher Leff, LLP, lead attorney for the City of New York, presented evidence at trial that ExxonMobil had not only ignored for many years numerous clear warnings of the environmental dangers to drinking water posed by MTBE but had actively suppressed the truth about its dangers.

"We're delighted with the verdict," said Mr. Sher. "This is an important outcome for public water suppliers dealing with MTBE throughout the country." Mr. Sher was assisted at trial by Robert Chapman.

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