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Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Ford

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20049
Nos. 1804, (Md. Spec. Ct., 02/09/2012)

A Maryland appellate court held that under certain circumstances, Maryland law permits recovery for emotional distress related to reasonable fear of cancer. The case involved a jury verdict awarding compensatory damages totaling over $147 million to hundreds of plaintiffs who claimed that an oil company was responsible for contaminating their groundwater with benzene and methyl tertiary butyl ether following an undetected gasoline leak that lasted 37 days. The award included damages for emotional distress, stemming from the fear of cancer or other latent disease, to 180 appellees who made that claim. On appeal, the court ruled that a plaintiff cannot recover for fear of future disease that has a long latency period unless the plaintiff produces evidence that: (1) the plaintiff presently has the same or a similar disease, or that symptoms of such a disease are present; or (2) the plaintiff will probably contract the feared disease, and that exposure to a toxic chemical attributable to the defendant is a substantial factor in causing that disease. As applied to the individuals involved in this case, there was insufficient evidence of emotional distress for 53 residents. Thus, their judgment for this component of damages was reversed. And while there was sufficient evidence of emotional distress to support a damage award for the remaining residents, a faulty instruction on damages for emotional distress requires a new trial.