Posted on April 15, 2011 by Mark Walker
There is probably no reason for you to have heard about this case – except that its possibly the largest judgment in the history of mankind! On February 28, 2011, an Ecuadorian Court granted a judgment against Chevron for over $19 billion dollars for environmental damages to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador allegedly caused by oil and gas operations of Texaco Petroleum Company (TexPet) between 1964 and 1992. Chevron merged with TexPet’s parent, Texaco, Inc., in 2001.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the judgment is that one-half of it, approximately $8.5 billion, is a punitive damage award that the Court gave Chevron the option of completely avoiding by saying it is sorry, i.e. by issuing a public apology within 15 days – an apology that was not issued and is likely never forthcoming.
U.S. District Judge (S.D.N.Y) Lewis Kaplan called this “an extraordinary case.” Judge Kaplan said this in a March 7, 2011, order preliminarily enjoining the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and their lawyers from enforcing the judgment. Chevron contends that the judgment was the product of fraud and a corrupt Ecuadorian judicial system. Chevron has video footage in which a U.S. lawyer for the Plaintiffs admits he is going to confront the judge to “scare” and “intimidate” him – stating that it’s “dirty” and something you would never do in the U.S., but adding unfortunately this is how things are done in Ecuador. Incredibly, the Plaintiffs’ lawyers participated in the shooting of a documentary, “Crude: The Real Price of Oil,” in which numerous apparently incriminating statements were made. Chevron subpoenaed the film “outtakes” and obtained this footage.
Of course, the case has a long way to go, with appeals by both sides in Ecuador, and a Chevron RICO case against the Plaintiffs and their lawyers in the United States. In the end, this judgment may yet set another record – the world’s largest unenforceable judgment.