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US Supreme Court to Hear Exxon Valdez Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Exxon Mobil Corporation must pay massive punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska.

The high court agreed Monday to review a federal appeals court ruling that Exxon Mobil must pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages. The figure is half that originally awarded by a federal jury in Alaska in 1994.

Attorneys for Exxon Mobil have appealed, saying the amount is excessive under laws governing shipping and that even the reduced damages would be unprecedented. The company says it has already paid $3.4 billion in clean-up costs and penalties.

The plaintiffs seeking punitive damages against Exxon Mobil include more than 33,000 commercial fishermen, seafood processors, landowners, native Alaskans and others affected by the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

More than 40 million liters of oil spilled into Prince William Sound when an Exxon tanker, captained by a relapsed alcoholic, ran aground in 1989.

The spill fouled nearly 2,000 kilometers of Alaskan coastline, killing thousands of marine animals and sea birds.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, Bloomberg and Reuters.