The majority of the three-judge panel said the company's negligent actions were not intentional and didn't warrant the maximum financial penalty imposed by a lower court, The New York Times said.
In cutting the punitive damages award to $2.5 billion Friday, the panel of the 9th U.S Court of Appeals in San Francisco was divided on applying legal precedents to the company responsible for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Exxon's decision to place "a known relapsed alcoholic" at the helm of the oil-laden supertanker as it navigated the "pristine and resource abundant waters of Prince William Sound, was reckless and warrants severe sanctions," appeals court judges Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Mary M. Schroeder wrote in the majority opinion. "The misconduct did not, however, warrant sanctions at the highest range allowable."
In his dissent, Judge James R. Browning said Exxon's conduct was "extremely reprehensible," "malicious" and "placed at massive risk and, ultimately, seriously injured the property and livelihood of tens of thousands of Alaskans."