Right now the folks at Exxon Mobile are probably writing out their
'Thank You' cards to the U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Even though the
company posted a "disappointing" $10.9 billion profit in the first quarter of 2008
(the second highest U.S. corporate profit ever – the highest being
themselves in 2007) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the company
only has to pay $500 million (nope, I didn't forget a zero) in punitive
damages to the 30,000 victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Okay, so in 1994, when a jury in Alaska awarded the victims $5 billion,
the punitive damages award really might have punished the company for
causing this disaster. In 1994, $5
billion represented a year's profits for the oil company. In 2006, the
award was cut down to $2.5 billion and only represented "about three
weeks of Exxon's current  net profits." So, the current $500
million damage award is what? Well, according to the New York Times,
Exxon Mobile earned more than $1,287 of profit for every second of
At that rate, it only took them four and a half days to pay off this
court's punitive damages judgment.
UPDATE: There have been lots of commentary on this decision today. These are some of our favorites.