After 18 years of lingering litigation, a judge in Ecuador has issued a $9.5 billion environmental damages ruling against Chevron (NYSE: CVX).

That amount was far less than the more than $27 billion the plaintiffs had been seeking. But, should it stand, it would rank second behind the $20 billion settlement fund established by BP (NYSE: BP) in connection with its Gulf of Mexico tragedy aboard Transocean's (NYSE: RIG) Deepwater Horizon rig last year.

Chevron's case was first filed in New York in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 residents of Ecuador's Amazon. The plaintiffs charged that Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, had left behind severe economic damage from its operations in the country from 1964 to 1990. They maintained that the results had included significant illness, deaths, and economic damage among the area's indigenous tribes.

At Chevron's request, the case was refiled in Ecuador in 2003. Two years ago -- in what could still have an effect on the ultimate results in the case -- Chevron filed an action in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, maintaining that PetroEcuador, the country's state-owned oil company, was responsible for the pollution and should be held accountable, financially and otherwise.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan granted Chevron's request in pre-emptively outlawing efforts to enforce any judgment through March 8. A hearing is scheduled for later this week regarding a possible extension of that date. A similar judgment was issued the following day by the Court of Arbitration. In essence, the plaintiffs and Ecuador were ordered to cease further litigation in the case and were enjoined from benefiting from the enforcement of any judgment.

In that connection, Roger Alford, a professor of law at Pepperdine University, wrote Monday in the law blog Opinio Juris, "If they do (pursue further litigation), I would strongly suspect that the federal court would hold the plaintiffs in contempt of court and the arbitral tribunal would hold Ecuador liable for any damage Chevron suffers in paying on the judgment." In any event, the damage figure is significant, given Ecuador's $42 billion GDP.

But as Pablo Fajardo, Ecuador's lead attorney in the case, said after the verdict was rendered, "the plaintiffs provided the court with a great quantum of scientific and documentary evidence that Chevron deliberately and in violation of all industry norms discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest and into the water supply."

Where the case will proceed from here remains open to question. However, the market may have weighed in with its opinion on Monday when Chevron's share price increased 1.3%. And while it lagged ConocoPhillips' 3.1% gain, along with increases of 2.5% and 1.5% by ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Occidental (NYSE: OXY), respectively, it nevertheless was higher on the very day the judgment against the company was issued.   

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We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.