The Washington Post reported Sunday that since the 1994 award stemming from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, nearly 20 percent of the 33,000 fishermen, Native Alaskans, cannery workers and others who stood to benefit from the lawsuit have died in the ensuing years.
"That's the most upsetting thing, that more than 6,000 people have passed and this still isn't finished," said Mike Webber, a Native Alaskan artistic carver and former fisherman in the Prince William Sound.
The justices are scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on whether the $5 billion judgment was excessive. Also in question is whether the judgment was legal under maritime law.
The case is Exxon Shipping v. Baker.
"This case is about whether further punishment is warranted," Exxon spokesman Tony Cudmore was quoted as saying. "We've spent $3.5 billion, which is a significant sum of money we think is adequate to deter anyone" from wrongdoing.
The damage award has been reviewed three times by a district judge and twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals.