Exxon Valdez oil spill still teaching legal lessons 20 years later

Twenty years after the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the environmental disaster is still teaching legal lessons.

The University of St. Thomas will host two events on Thursday, Oct. 1, featuring experts on the spill and its many repercussions:

Law Journal Symposium: The St. Thomas Law Journal will host its fall symposium, “Exxon Valdez Revisited: Rights and Responsibilities,” from 8:30 to 3 p.m. in the Schulze Grand Atrium at the university’s School of Law, located at 11th Street and Harmon Place in downtown Minneapolis.

The symposium will feature presentations by experts who have studied the Exxon Valdez case as well as those who apply the disaster’s lessons in a broader legal framework. Two feature presentations will describe the impact of the spill on the ecology of Prince William Sound, and the psychosocial impact of the spill and the two decades of litigation that followed.  The symposium also will include question-and-answer sessions and panel presentations on the spill’s legal and practical consequences, the future of punitive damages in American law, and whether justice ever was achieved in the disposition of the case.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Doug Rendleman, the Robert E.R. Huntley Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va. A noted expert on remedies in the judicial system, he is author of a text now in its seventh edition Cases and Materials on Remedies (West Group, 2007).
  • Catherine Sharkey, a professor at New York University School of Law. She has written extensively on the subject of damages and, in 2003, described a new category: compensatory societal damages.

The symposium is free for students and $10 (without C.L.E. credit) or $40 (with C.L.E. credit) for others. For more information, call (651) 962-4855. Register online.

Public forum: St. Thomas’ Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions will host a forum, “Exxon Valdez Revisited: Justice Achieved or Denied?” from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the university’s Schulze Hall Auditorium, located across 11th Street from the law school.

The forum will examine the spill and the resulting legal issues; questions involved include the length of legal proceedings, the role of compensatory and punitive damages, and corporate and personal responsibility in the wake of tragedy.

Free and open to the public, the forum will begin with presentations by William Woody, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator who worked on the spill, and Dr. Steven Picou, a professor of sociology at the University of South Alabama and a leading expert on the impact of disasters on communities.

A discussion follows between Brian O’Neill, a partner at the Minneapolis law firm Faegre & Benson, and Michael Paulsen, Distinguished University Chair and professor at St. Thomas’ School of Law. O’Neill, the trial lawyer who represented the plaintiffs at the Exxon Valdez trial, and Paulsen will discuss whether justice was achieved or denied in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision of the case.

The event will conclude with a panel discussion moderated by WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby. Panelists include:

  • Minneapolis attorney Devid Lebedoff, author of Cleaning Up, a 1997 book about the case
  • Catherine Sharkey, a professor at New York University School of Law and an expert on damages
  • Thomas Holloran, Senior Distinguished Fellow at the St. Thomas School of Law.

Free C.L.E. credits will be applied for. To register, call Mary Edel-Joyce, (651) 962-4920, or email holloranctr@stthomas.edu.