NH $700M case against 2 oil companies begins
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Day one of what is expected to be a marathon pollution trial over the gasoline additive MTBE ended Monday with lawyers for the state of New Hampshire and two big oil companies heatedly accusing each other of misleading jurors.
The judge denied demands for a mistrial made by Citgo's lawyer, Nathan Eimer, but may give jurors a special instruction when the trial resumes Tuesday with more opening statements from the lawyers.
The state is seeking more than $700 million from Citgo and ExxonMobil to cover the cost of monitoring and treating MTBE-contaminated wells. Lawyers for the state argue that the MTBE gasoline is a defective product and that oil companies failed to warn the state of its potential for widespread groundwater contamination.
After jurors were dismissed for the day, Eimer accused the state's lawyer, Jessica Grant, of using what he described as a fabricated document in arguing that Citgo knew the groundwater contamination potential of MTBE. He also said that in Grant's opening statement, she disparaged an expert witness who's not even on the witness list.
Grant said it was "nonsense" to think the state had done anything nefarious and countered that the opening statement by ExxonMobil attorney James Quinn was rife with falsehoods.
Merrimack Superior Court Judge Peter Fauver stressed to the lawyers that they were at the start of what is expected to be a four-month trial. He advised them to come up with something "that's not too inflammatory or accusative" when preparing their written suggestions of what he should tell jurors.
Lawyers for ExxonMobil and Citgo were midway through their opening remarks when court ended.
Grant told jurors the state will base its case largely on the oil companies' own documents detailing how MTBE contamination is more widespread and costly to clean up than gasoline without MTBE.