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Chevron claims victory; plaintiffs split $88,500

A jury ruled for the plaintiffs Wednesday in a Lincoln Countyoil field pollution trial, but the defendants’ attorneys soundedvictorious following the $88,500 verdict.

After deliberating three hours Tuesday and several hoursWednesday morning, a seven-woman, five-man voted 9-3 to awardplaintiffs Leland and Helen Smith, Nathan and Mary Carter, Gene C.”Moochie” and Margaret Britt and Hal Ray and Doris Case Owens atotal of $88,500. The jury awarded the plaintiffs no compensationfor emotional distress or mental anguish in the trial againstChevron U.S.A. over the company’s oil production and explorationsactivities in the Brookhaven Oil Field.

“We’re very pleased with the jury verdict,” said attorney BobbyMeadows, who represented Chevron. “It confirms that the land isvaluable and safe, and that’s what we want people to know.”

The plaintiffs were not present for the jury’s verdictWednesday. Jeff Thompson, their lead attorney, expresseddisappointment but said the trial had only completed the firstphase.

Thompson and fellow attorney Tom Bilek were hopeful that averdict in the punitive damages phase of the trial will bebetter.

“The jury still hasn’t heard about the bad conduct of Chevron,”Bilek said. “We’re hoping that after they hear that that justicewill be done.”

Before that can happen, though, the plaintiffs must convinceJudge Keith Starrett that a punitive damages phase isnecessary.

A hearing on that issue began Wednesday afternoon and was tocontinue this morning. Due to some prior engagements, after today,the hearing will be suspended until early next week.

Starrett said the jury will be on call to hear the punitivephase of the trial if needed.

Thompson said that even though the property was cleaned up, theverdict shows there are still problems in the field. He indicatedChevron should be held accountable.

Meadows took a different view.

“We had hoped the jury verdict would put an end to this case,but the plaintiffs and their lawyers want punitive damages,”Meadows said, adding that the law allows them to proceed with theirclaim. “We intend to show it doesn’t have any merit.”

According to the jury verdict, the Smiths were awarded $28,600,the Britts $16,800, the Owenses $16,100 and the Carters $27,000.While they had the smallest amount of property, the Carters’ landrequired the biggest clean up.

In closing arguments Tuesday, Thompson had asked the jury toaward damages for all of the plaintiffs’ total of approximately 239acres of land, valued at over $700,000, plus timber value. He alsosought mental anguish damages of $25,000 an acre for the Cartersand $5,000 an acre for other plaintiffs.