ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Nov. 16 -- Native Alaskans will get $20 million more in claims from the Exxon Valdez oil spill under an agreement approved Wednesday in federal court. The settlement compensates for loss of fishing harvests and is in addition to $5 billion in punitive damages awarded to commercial fisherman from the oil company. About 3,600 native Alaskans who live along a vast area of Alaska shoreline will share the award, said Lloyd Miller, attorney for the natives. 'We told the judge we were pleased with the $20 million settlement,' Miller said. 'It was well within the range. It represents an excellent result.' The 1989 oil spill that sent nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound is the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The settlement pact was hammered out between the natives and the oil company in July and August. It was approved Wednesday after a required hearing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. The payment of $20 million is limited to the natives' claims for the replacement cost of the fish, seals, and other subsistence foods they were unable to harvest as a result of the spill, Exxon said. Natives' claims for damages to their subsistence way of life, culture, economy, and the value of subsistence activity were dismissed by the court as not recoverable under federal maritime law. The Alaska natives said they would appeal that ruling. The settlement also does not affect the natives' right to participate in punitive damages awarded by an Anchorage jury last summer.
In September, Exxon filed motions to overturn or reduce a $5 billion federal court jury award to fishermen and other Alaskans for the spill. Exxon said the award, the largest for punitive damages ever made against a corporation, was unwarranted, excessive and unfair. Plaintiffs in the case had asked for as much as $20 billion. Exxon's lawyers argued it had atoned for the spill by paying $2.5 billion to clean it up and settling federal and state criminal charges for $1 billion. Oil industry analysts have said it is unlikely the huge award will stand given the history of other big jury awards. In 1985, for example, a jury awarded $10.5 billion to Pennzoil Co. from Texaco Inc., but Texaco eventually settled the case for $3 billion. The spill from the 987-foot supertanker killed thousands of birds and animals, closed some fisheries and fouled hundreds of miles of shoreline.