John Connor, Chevron’s lead American expert in its multi-billion dollar Ecuador environmental trial, suffered a major blow to his credibility when a U.S. jury rejected his testimony and delivered a $19 million judgment against the oil giant for causing mental retardation to several Mississippi residents exposed to its leaking gas tanks, according to court papers provided this week by lawyers on the case.
In the trial — which took place in Jefferson County, Mississippi — Connor conceded on cross-examination that over almost two decades of work for Chevron he has never once concluded that the impact of his client’s operations has harmed even a single person, according to the court documents. Connor testified that he knew of no circumstance where “there were any injuries of individuals that were the responsibility of Chevron or Texaco.”
Connor also tried to exonerate Chevron by testifying that any contamination must have been caused by leaks from three storage tanks owned by a smaller company in the area, not the larger tanks owned by Chevron. But when confronted on cross-examination by evidence that he had misidentified the site from a state database, Connor admitted that he had never taken any steps to definitively verify that the gas tanks actually existed on the smaller company’s property.
The clear bias in Connor’s testimony and errors in his analysis apparently shocked the Mississippi jury, which rejected his argument that Chevron had no responsibility for the cognitive deficiencies of the five plaintiffs. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $19 million in damages, said Ed Flechas, the lead lawyer on the case who made the court documents available. Chevron is appealing the decision.
“John Connor has virtually no credibility as an expert scientist given his numerous errors and dismal performance in the Mississippi trial,” said Flechas, whose clients suffered severe physical and mental retardation.
Also in his Mississippi testimony, Connor admitted that he has been paid “at least” $8 million by Chevron for his work and that as much as $5 million of that amount derived from the Ecuador case, according to the documents.
Chevron is charged in Ecuador with the illegal dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste directly into the rainforest from 1964-1990, polluting an area the size of Rhode Island and creating what some experts believe is the world’s worst oil-related catastrophe. Cancer rates in the area of Ecuador where Chevron operated have skyrocketed and six indigenous groups have seen their traditional lifestyles decimated, according to evidence submitted to the court by the plaintiffs.
Connor’s testimony in the Mississippi case could play a significant role in the Ecuador matter, where the stakes for Chevron are considerably higher and where the company’s defense rests largely on Connor’s credibility. A new damages report prepared by a team of prominent American experts and submitted by the plaintiffs on Sept. 16 found Chevron’s clean-up costs could rise to $113 billion; a large portion of that amount is compensation for up to 10,000 cancer deaths predicted in the coming decades if there is no immediate clean-up.
Connor continues to play a critical role for Chevron in the Ecuador trial, helping to coordinate the submission of numerous expert reports assessing environmental impact at dozens of Chevron’s oil production facilities that are the subject of the litigation. All of the reports submitted by Connor in the Ecuador trial found the company was not responsible for any harm despite scientific evidence from the parties and multiple third-party sources that the company’s former sites remain extensively contaminated.
In his Ecuador reports, Connor has tried to blame any contamination in Chevron’s concession area on Petroecuador, Ecuador’s state-owned oil company that took over Chevron’s operations in 1992. This tactic is similar to Connor trying to blame the smaller company in the Mississippi case, said Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.
In one report submitted to the Ecuador court in September, Connor found that Chevron’s operations in Ecuador were “consistent with applicable regulations and prevailing practices” from 1972-1990, when it operated the oil fields; that Chevron’s remediation in the mid-1990s was “completed in accordance with applicable specifications” even though evidence from both Chevron and the plaintiffs indicates the remediated sites are still contaminated; and, that any remaining contamination from Chevron’s activities “pose no measurable risk to human health.”
Connor’s reports stand in stark contrast to the findings of numerous court experts and independent scientists. To date, more than 64,000 scientific sampling results and more than 200,000 pages of trial record demonstrate that 100% of Chevron’s former oil production sites are extensively contaminated, including those that the company claimed to have “remediated” in exchange for a limited release from the government.
Further, peer-reviewed health evaluations have found elevated rates of birth defects, spontaneous abortions, and cancers in the area of Ecuador where Chevron operated.
Lawyers for the Ecuadorians have long alleged that Connor’s scientific work in Ecuador is virtually worthless.
“John Connor gets paid by Chevron to use all sorts of trickery to produce conclusions that benefit the company,” said Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer for the plaintiffs. “Maybe that is the reason why Chevron has said it expects to lose the trial.”