Chevron Corp. should face a new trial for allegedly sanctioning beatings and shootings of Nigerian protesters in 1998 because jurors who cleared the company in 2008 were given erroneous instructions, lawyers for protesters told a federal appeals court today.
A federal court jury was told, incorrectly, that the protesters had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that company- paid soldiers used excessive force against those who boarded Chevron’s offshore oil drilling platform located nine miles offshore of the Niger Delta, said Theresa Traber, an attorney for the Nigerians and their families.
The jury should have been instructed that it was Chevron’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the peaceful protesters, who were unarmed and running away with arms raised when shots were fired, had committed crimes that justified the type of force used by the soldiers, Traber told the three-judge appellate panel at today’s hearing in San Francisco. The Nigerians were protesting over jobs and alleged environmental damage to the area.
“This was a major error that deprived the plaintiffs of the fair trial they should have had on their battery claims,” Traber said.
Two men were killed, others were shot and beaten and one man was hung by his wrists and tortured after a protest about jobs and alleged environmental damage to the area, according to a 1999 lawsuit against Chevron. Nineteen Nigerians sued the company claiming it was liable for the actions of the Nigerian soldiers it hired to provide security for the oil platform.
Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, said at trial that villagers invaded the platform and held 150 workers hostage for ransom. They had knives, prevented workers from leaving the platform and threatened to set it on fire, the jury was told. The company said the soldiers acted in self defense and denied directing their conduct.
Craig Stewart, an attorney at Jones Day representing Chevron today, told the judges that the jury was given proper instructions by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who presided over the trial. Both sides had agreed that Nigerian law would be applied to the battery claims by protesters, he said.
“Nigerian law, like California law, like federal law, puts the burden on plaintiffs to prove that the force was excessive,” Stewart said.
After almost 10 years of trial court proceedings, the case went before a jury in October 2008. The jury cleared Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, of wrongful death, torture, assault, battery and negligence claims.
The case is Larry Bowoto v Chevron, 09-15641, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
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