cover image Cleaning Up

Cleaning Up

David Lebedoff, Author Free Press $25 (336p) ISBN 978-0-684-83706-2

Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez went aground on a reef of the south coast of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of toxic crude oil in one of the worst environmental disasters in history. The ensuing litigation against Exxon on behalf of the fishermen, processors and landowners along Prince William Sound is the plot of this book by novelist and lawyer David Lebedoff. The punitive damages of $5 billion against Exxon, still on appeal, was the result of five years of intensive work by a team of lawyers led by Brian O'Neill, a partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre & Benson, who flew to Alaska immediately upon hearing news of the disaster and started lining up local clients. His contingent fee was one-third of the $5 billion award. Based on documents and extensive interviews with all the participants except Exxon, which refused to cooperate, Lebedoff provides interesting details about the work of civil lawyers in assembling a case of this magnitude--from scrounging for plaintiffs, to selecting a jury and cross-examining experts. He conveys a narrative suspense to what is otherwise a meticulous dissertation on civil legal procedure. (Nov.)