Montgomery Advertiser

The recent $3 billion punitive damage award against Exxon dramatically demonstrates the need for jury trials. It is also a powerful rebuttal to those trying to defend binding arbitration.

In arbitration, discovery procedures are prohibited and punitive damages are rarely awarded. But it was discovery-produced company documents that convinced the jury that Exxon had defrauded Alabama. And it is the huge punitive damage award that will hurt Exxon and deter them from future misconduct. Had the case been arbitrated, the documents would not have surfaced and punitive damages would not have been awarded.

According to the documents, Exxon calculated that even if it were caught underpaying Alabama, it would only have to repay what it owed. It also counted on being undetected by Alabama's notoriously weak regulatory agencies.

Exxon's twisted logic is what drives many businesses to conclude that they have nothing to lose by cheating Alabamians, and the widespread use of binding arbitration simply makes their job easier. Only a jury trial and the prospect of punitive damages can deter them.

Some special interests deride trial lawyers, but it was a trial lawyer who won the case against Exxon. And if Alabama can have its day in court so should its citizens.

Bill Chappell