Publication Date



On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on
Bligh Reef off the Alaskan coast, spilling millions of
gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. At the

time, the spill was probably the worst environmental
disaster in American history, and it sparked unusually
extensive and complex litigation, as well as a vast
academic literature. The Article uncovers a fundamental
yet unnoticed inconsistency in American land-based and
maritime tort law that surfaced through the Exxon Valdez
litigation. On the one hand, liability for purely economic
losses was strictly limited under Robins Dry Dock v. Flint,
leaving dozens of thousands of victims uncompensated.
On the other hand, liability was expanded through an
award of punitive damages to relatively few successful
claimants. While these two components of the legal saga
might not seem incompatible from a simple doctrinal
perspective, they are inconsistent on a deeper level. The
inconsistency transcends the Exxon Valdez litigation:It is
a troubling trait of land-based and maritime tort law,
which happened to surface when the Exxon oil submerged.
After delineating the contours of the incongruity, the
Article proposes a conceptual framework for resolution.
Generally, it holds that if courts believe liability must be
expanded beyond the limits set by the exclusionary rule in
order to obtain certain levels of deterrence and retribution,
relaxing the exclusionary rule and allowing more victims
to recover is a more defensible path than awarding
punitive damages to the already compensated few.