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France appeals court upholds oil company liability for 1999 spill

[JURIST] The Paris Appellate Court [official website, in French] on Tuesday upheld a lower court's 2008 decision finding French oil company Total [corporate website] and several other defendants criminally liable for an oil spill that occurred of the coast of Brittany in 1999. The court also increased the fine [LeMonde report, in French] against the defendants from 192 million euros to 200 million euros. Over 20,000 tons of oil [Euronews report] seeped from an oil tanker called Erika, which Total chartered from an Italian company, decimating 400 kilometers of coastline and causing harm to wildlife. Total said that it plans to review the judgment [press release] before deciding whether to appeal.

Total is not the first oil company to be subject to stiff penalties as a result of an oil spill. In June 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that Exxon Mobil [corporate website] owes interest on the more than $500 million in punitive damages [JURIST report] awarded against it following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill [EPA backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. According to statistics [text] on major oil spills published by the non-profit International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation [official website], the Total oil spill off the cost of Brittany was the fourth largest oil spill since 1967, while the Exxon Valdez spill is ranked 35.

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