The WSJ’s Law Blog reported recently on the joy being experienced by lawyers in the firms representing plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez case, their spirits dampened only mildly by the Ninth Circuit’s recent reduction in the punitive award from $4.5 billion to $2.5 billion. Those firms include traditional plaintiffs’ firms such as Milberg Weiss, but also firms normally seen representing defendants, such as Davis Wright Tremaine and Faegre & Benson.
How do Faegre & Benson lawyers feel about the prospect of sharing in perhaps one-third of $2.5 billion? “It’s great,” said partner Brian O’Neill to the WSJ. Any grief due to the $2 billion reduction is probably tempered by the amazing $2 billion in post-judgment interest that will be tacked onto the final bill. (Actually, maybe that’s not amazing in itself, since the case has been pending since 1989. Still, the interest “is not chicken s___,” as O’Neill put it.) O’Neill said of the titanic fee that is coming their way, “This is one of the few chances a bill-by-the-hour guy and a bill-by-the-hour firm has to get ahead.” I for one have been worried for some time about how the partners in these little “bill-by-the-hour firms” were managing to get by, so it’s good to know that for once they may have been able to afford that second can of beans for the family at Christmas dinner.
Damages in the case were estimated at about $500 million. The Ninth Circuit basically held that the evidence did not warrant a punitive award that went to the limit of what is permitted under State Farm v. Campbell, a 9:1 or “single-digit” ratio, and reduced the ratio to 5:1.