But Chevron argued that Texaco, which operated around Lago Agrio from 1964 to 1990, complied with Ecuadorean law and already spent $40 million cleaning up any damage in the 1990s. The defense argued that the responsibility falls entirely on Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company that took over Texaco's Ecuador operations in the 1990s.
The initial lawsuit against Texaco was filed in 1993 in New York City, but the case was later moved to Lago Agrio. According to Judge Nicolás Zambrano's 188-page ruling issued Monday, Chevron must pay $8.6 billion, plus 10 percent of the damages (about $860 million), to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group formed to represent the plaintiffs.
Moreover, if Chevron fails to publicly apologize within 15 days, the ruling says that the damages amount will be doubled to more than $17 billion.
Divided between the 30,000 residents said to be affected, the damages would correspond to about $280,000 per person – far short of the total $27 billion initially recommended by a court-appointed expert, say the plaintiffs. More recent assessments made by their lawyers brought the damages up to $113 billion.
“This is an important step, but we're going to appeal this sentence because we think that the damages awarded are not enough,” says Pablo Fajardo, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Since both parties have promised to appeal, it is unclear what exactly happens next. Also, a recent flurry of suits and counter-suits between the plaintiffs and Chevron have further complicated Monday's ruling. Both sides are backed by large legal firms in the United States.