Yes, we all know that Exxon skated out of their punitive damages for the Valdez spill. The $500 million punishment, once $5 billion, then $2.5 billion, is a paltry drop in the bucket compared to their annual profits, and almost nothing compared to revenues.
If Exxon's profits were a family box of frozen fish sticks (40 sticks), the plantiffs would get half of one fish stick. If those guys on Dangerous Catch had to stay out in the Alaskan waters for 6 weeks to earn Exxon's profits, they would earn enough to pay the Exxon damages in one morning.
But this decision is not about Exxon...
Exxon's reduced punitive damages award is not the biggest part of this story. It is the swath of destruction currently brewing within Wall Street's upper floors, as corporate execs make plans to cancel billions in quality control spending for the coming year, knowing the punitive costs from the disasters they will cause will never again be allowed to exceed the compensatory awards.
Get ready for cars rolling off the line with substandard brakelines, nuclear power plant contractors forgetting to double-check structural drawings, crates of coffee cups are shipping right now laced with bacteria that will cause a national cholera epidemic.
And there's nothing the courts can ever do about it.
The boys on the bench have been busy lately, and we'll be living (or dying) with their decisions for a very long time.