A nine-person jury in Anchorage, Alaska, may have breached Exxon's relatively impenetrable defenses. On June 13, it decided that the oil company should be punished for recklessness in the Valdez oil spill. Now, lawyers for the 14,000 fishermen, Alaskan natives, and others say they'll seek $15 billion in damages. Few analysts think the final award will go nearly that high. But even a smaller settlement could force Exxon to borrow what it has not already set aside for a settlement, putting its gold-plated credit rating at risk. And while the company already sells $1 billion in assets a year, "this could accelerate some decisions," says Merrill Lynch analyst Gus Fliakos.

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