$816 Million Jury Verdict for New Hampshire Over MTBE Contamination of State’s Drinking Water

  $816 Million Jury Verdict for New Hampshire Over MTBE Contamination of
  State’s Drinking Water

Business Wire

CONCORD, N.H. -- April 9, 2013

After a three month trial – the longest in state court history – a New
Hampshire jury took less than two hours to find unanimously that ExxonMobil
was negligent in supplying over 2 billion gallons of MTBE gasoline that
resulted in widespread contamination of the state’s drinking water. The jury
awarded the state total damages of $816 million – ExxonMobil will pay 28.94%
(its market share), which is $236,372,664.

“The trial was about whether ExxonMobil designed a defective product, failed
to warn about the increased dangers of MTBE and disregarded the advice its own
environmental experts,” said Jessica Grant of Sher Leff, lead trial attorney
for the State of New Hampshire in this matter. “The finding of ExxonMobil’s
negligence is particularly important because it shows the jury understood that
this problem could have been avoided.”

In the trial which began on January 14, 2013, the State of New Hampshire was
seeking clean up costs relating to the contamination of New Hampshire’s
drinking water with MTBE – a gasoline additive classified by the EPA as a
“possible human carcinogen” that was banned in New Hampshire in 2007. The
State sued to hold ExxonMobil liable for its share of the clean-up costs,
based on the fact that the company supplied over 2.7 billion gallons of MTBE
gasoline into New Hampshire, which accounts for nearly 1/3 of the state’s
gasoline market.

The state originally sued 26 oil companies in 2003 over the contamination of
the State’s drinking water by the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary
butyl ether). The State previously settled with all other parties but
ExxonMobil – collecting more than $130 million for MTBE cleanup from the other

Evidence showed that ExxonMobil’s own environmental experts advised in the
1980’s against adding MTBE to ExxonMobil’s gasoline because it travels farther
in groundwater than gasoline without MTBE and is resistant to biodegradation,
which significantly increases the potential for contaminating much larger
volumes of water. Although ExxonMobil contends that the use of MTBE was
mandated by the EPA to curb air pollution, the Clean Air Act Amendments are
oxygenate neutral, leaving it up to the oil companies as to which oxygenate to

Experts for the State estimate that over 40,000 New Hampshire drinking water
wells are contaminated with MTBE and that 5,590 wells have levels of MTBE that
are above the State’s safe drinking water standard. The State was also seeking
costs to clean up 228 high risk sites where MTBE has contaminated the soil and

New Hampshire is the only state to have reached the trial stage in a suit over
MTBE gasoline and is trying the case on a statewide basis. Other lawsuits
brought by water districts, cities and individual well owners have ended in
settlements. Lawyers from Sher Leff won a $250 million federal jury verdict in
2009 on behalf of New York City for MTBE contamination of city wells, which is
currently on appeal – Exxon Mobil’s share of damages in that case was $105

The case is State of New Hampshire v. Hess Corp., 03- C-0550, New Hampshire
Superior Court, Merrimack County (Concord)


Sher Leff
Jessica Grant, 415-348-8300
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