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WEST VIRGINIA APPEALS COURT REVERSES $10.32 MILLION JURY AWARD AGAINST ASHLAND OIL

 WEST VIRGINIA APPEALS COURT
 REVERSES $10.32 MILLION JURY AWARD AGAINST ASHLAND OIL
 ASHLAND, Ky., Dec. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals today unanimously reversed a May 1990 jury verdict which awarded four plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit $10.32 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Ashland Oil, Inc. (NYSE: ASH).
 The lawsuit, which was heard in state court in Charleston, W.Va., sought nuisance damages for alleged emissions from Ashland's Catlettsburg, Ky., petroleum refinery.
 In a 41-page opinion, written by Justice Margaret Workman, the state Supreme Court cited numerous reversible errors which were made by the trial court in a nuisance case involving four West Virginia plaintiffs. The trial was considered a "test" case in pending litigation against Ashland involving several actions and several hundred plaintiffs. The court ordered a new trial consistent with the guidelines contained in the court's opinion.
 In commenting on the court's decision, a comapny spokesman said, "We are extremely pleased with the West Virginia Supreme Court's decision in favor of the company. The Appeals Court opinion is an important step in Ashland's defense of this and other related suits. The company has said all along that the charges brought in this and other suits are without merit and we will continue to vigorously contest them."
 The Appeals Court decision reversed $1.3 million in compensatory damages awarded by the state court jury, citing, "Given the lack of evidence regarding damages, the trial court erred in not granting appellant's (Ashland's) motion for a directed verdict." The court went further in discussing the jury's $9 million punitive damage award, writing, "The jury in this case did not have before it any substantial evidence of Ashland's conduct which demonstrated a 'conscious wrongdoing' necessary to award punitive damages. ...Accordingly, the punitive damage awards should have been set aside by the trial court."
 The Appeals Court decision also clarified several important questions involving standing and causation in the case. In discussing standing, the court wrote that given the fact that three out of four of the plantiffs in the case had "no ownership or possessory interest in the property for which they sought nuisance damages, the trial court committed reversible error in ruling that they had standing to pursue claims." Even though the court did not fully address causation, it wrote "...we do note that the causation evidence presented appears very weak."
 The court also wrote that the trial court erred in excluding Lee Thomas, former U.S. EPA administrator, from testifying in Ashland's defense. "This testimony, according to appellant (Ashland), was directly relevant to any assessment of punitive damages because it would demonstrate that Ashland acted in compliance with environmental law and had no reason to believe that its conduct caused serious harm."
 In review, an Ashland spokesman said, "Ashland intents to continue vigorously opposing this and related suits."
 -0- 12/20/91
 /CONTACT: Roger Schrum of Ashland Oil, 606-329-4061/
 (ASH) CO: Ashland Oil, Inc. ST: Kentucky, West Virginia IN: OIL SU:


JT -- PG012 -- 4476 12/20/91 15:39 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Dec 20, 1991
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