In a recent article, Exxon Mobil Corporation's public relations team described its massive gasoline spill in the Jacksonville area of Baltimore County as an "unfortunate accident" ("Residents sort through ruling on Exxon spill jury verdict," Feb. 11).

The oil company's spin ignores what really happened.


Exxon's gas station unleashed 26,000 gallons of petroleum into the aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for Jacksonville families. That never would have happened had Exxon kept the promise it made, under oath, to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals to install a protective underground liner.

Exxon made that promise to surmount vigorous opposition from the county health department to its gas station that was being built. Another Exxon station nearby, then closed, had earlier contaminated the same aquifer.

Extra protective measures should have been taken. Indeed, Exxon's representative told the Board of Appeals the new gas station would be "state of the art" with "extraordinary measures" to prevent underground discharges into the aquifer. But the promised safeguards were never put in place.

Exxon also claims the aquifer water in Jacksonville is safe. Yet experts in the last trial demonstrated that the water is neither safe to drink nor to wash in.

In the case tried by our law firm, a Baltimore County jury found that this and other misconduct by Exxon constituted fraud. It awarded plaintiffs slightly over $1 billion in punitive damages. The trial judge sustained the award for punitive damages, noting a "high degree of reprehensibility."

The world's largest oil company wants us to ignore its misconduct and broken promises to Baltimore County. An "unfortunate accident?" Hardly.

H. Russell Smouse, Towson

The writer is a senior lawyer in the Law Offices ofPeter G. Angelos, P.C. and was lead attorney in Allison v. Exxon Mobil Corp.