Tuesday’s decision by the Paris Cour de Cassation to uphold a 2008 ruling over the disaster will be a blow to the French supermajor which has already forked out heavily for clean-up operations.
Total was found guilty in 2008 for the damage caused when the Erika, an
ageing oil tanker it had chartered, broke apart and sank in a winter
storm off Brittany in 1999, spilling 20,000 tonnes of crude oil. An oil slick covered 400 kilometres of French coastline, killing thousands of birds and marine animals.
In early 2010 a French appeals court upheld key elements of that verdict confirming the criminal responsibility of Total, which was fined €375,000 ($485,000 today). The 2010 ruling did not, however, land Total with civil responsibility, although it did prevent the oil giant from reclaiming any payments it had made at that time as a result of the incident.
Tuesday’s ruling has also handed Total civil responsibility for the spill, however, Reuters reported.
Despite lodging an appeal against the 2008 ruling, Total made a deal
with 37 of the plaintiffs after the first trial and paid them €170
million. It had already spent €200 million on pumping the remainder of the crude oil from the wreck of the Erika.
When Total appealed the 2010 ruling to the Supreme Court in April of that year, a final verdict was expected in about a year.
Nobody was immediately available for comment at Total on Tuesday.