Holman settles Exxon appeal for Brandywine

The 15-year saga of litigation ensuing from the Exxon Valdez oil spill has finally come to an end.

A Holman Fenwick & Willan team, with counsel Christopher Butcher QC of 7 King’s Bench Walk, has successfully rebutted an appeal against its client, reinsurer Brandywine Re, by Equitas, exonerating it from liability for certain clean-up costs.

The Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in Easter 1989, causing pollution and costing oil company Exxon billions of dollars.

During litigation, confusion arose over whether some claims were recoverable under Exxon’s global excess policy. Some reinsurers accepted liability and paid.

In 2004, a Lloyd’s syndicate run by Equitas took Brandywine to court in an attempt to recover the claims. Part of the confusion was due to uncertainty over the policy’s jurisdiction, with the insurers contending that New York law applied.

But in the High Court, Mr Justice Colman found against Equitas, ruling that English law was relevant and that Brandywine was not liable.

The Court of Appeal rejected Equitas’s appeal, finding that the reinsurer was not liable for the clean-up costs claimed. But it did decide that the correct law of the policy was New York law.

Holman partner Andrew Bandurka, who led the team, told The Lawyer: “The lesson for all lawyers is about clear contract drafting and clear choice law.”

CMS Cameron McKenna partner Andrew Symons advised Equitas, instructing Devereux Chambers’ Colin Edelman QC and Essex Court Chambers’ David Joseph QC.