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State ex rel. Pollution Control Coordinating Bd. v. Kerr-McGee Corp.

ELR Citation: 11 ELR 20458
Nos. No. 50235, 619 P.2d 858/(Okla., 11/04/1980)

The court affirms a jury award of $50,000 in compensatory damages and $127,000 in punitive damages to remedy a fish kill in the Cimarron River due to overflows of toxic chemicals from defendants' property. The verdict was based on the jury's finding that heavy rains flooded defendants' separating tanks, oil traps, and holding ponds and caused discharges of as much as 50 barrels of oil and 3,000 pounds of ammonia, resulting in the death of approximately 160,000 fish. The court rejects defendants' argument that the state lacks standing to bring the suit. On the contrary, the state is authorized under both the Pollution Control Coordinating Act and the common law to seek recovery, in the form of compensatory as well as punitive damages, when it must restock waters due to an illegal fish kill. The court also rejects defendants' challenges to a series of procedural and evidentiary rulings by the trial court, including the claims that (1) defendants were not notified of a meeting of the state Wildlife Commission concerning the incident, (2) the introduction into evidence of the state's Water Quality Standards was impermissible since those standards had not been duly published, and (3) certain other evidence was based on hearsay or otherwise inadmissible. Although it was error for the trial judge to convey to the jury his judgment as to whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a verdict, since he questioned the sufficiency of the evidence defendants were not prejudiced. Finding no substantial reason to overturn the jury's determination, the court affirms it.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (8 pp. $1.50, ELR Order No. C-1242).

Counsel for Appellants
Francis S. Irvine
Kerr, Davis, Irvine, Krasnow, Rhodes & Semtner
600 Fidelity Plaza, P.O. Box 1468, Oklahoma City OK 73101
(405) 272-9221

Clee Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald, Houston & Worthington
P.O. Box 2, Stillwater OK 74074
(405) 372-5815

William R. Grimm
Barrow, Gaddis, Griffith & Grimm
1600 Philtower Bldg., Tulsa OK 74103
(918) 584-1600

Counsel for Appellee
Larry Derryberry, Attorney General; H. Lee Schmidt, Charles Helm, Amalija J. Hodgins, Ass't Attorneys General
112 State Capitol, Oklahoma City OK 73105
(405) 521-3921

James R. Barnett, Barbara Rauch
Water Resources Bd., 12th Floor, NE 10th & Stonewall, Oklahoma City OK 73152
(405) 271-2555

Doolin, J.