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BP Blast Re-enacted at Trial

June 2, 2008, 6:35 pm

May 27, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

BP failed to listen to repeated warnings and put profits ahead of worker safety, leading to the 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, plaintiffs' attorney Brent Coon told jurors Tuesday in the latest blast-related trial.

Coon began his opening statement with a government-generated computer-animated re-enactment of the explosion. Several plaintiffs wept and one left the room when Coon played audio recordings of the explosion — which killed 15 and hurt scores more — and the sounds of frantic firefighters and paramedics responding to it.

"I don't think anyone can understand the living hell that those people went through that day," Coon said.

Coon similarly opened previous trials, whose cases were settled before going to the jury each time. He told jurors BP knew the refinery was in bad condition, cut budgets instead of making improvements and ignored warnings about problems.

While denying the plant suffered safety problems because of cost-cutting, BP has accepted responsibility for the blast. So the main thrust of the case will be determining damages due to the 14 plaintiffs — 10 workers near the refinery and four of their wives.

Coon said he will ask for $950 million, an amount he says was equal to one year's profit from the plant. The workers contend they suffered various physical injuries and mental strains from the blast.

BP has settled the vast majority of 4,000 claims resulting from the explosion. During jury selection last week, BP lawyers said they will question the extent of the injuries and whether some existed beforehand.

The March 23, 2005, explosion happened when a raffinate splitter overflowed into a neighboring blowdown drum, which then overflowed and spewed flammable hydrocarbons into the air. The hydrocarbons formed a cloud at the ground level and ignited.

As opening statements continued Tuesday afternoon, Coon and other members of his legal team attempted to connect BP's quest to maximize profits with several instances where the company knowingly filed incomplete or incorrect documents with state regulators.

In one case, BP submitted a diagram to the state that omitted the blowdown stack, the antiquated piece of equipment blamed in part for the explosion.

The consensus among government and independent experts is that the disaster might have been avoided had the stack been routed to a flare to burn off excess hydrocarbons.

A 1991 internal document showed the company could have added a flare for $9.3 million.

"They not only saw it coming," plaintiffs' attorney Lance Lubel said. "They created it. That was the strategy. Not a mistake, a business plan."

BP itself highlighted the condition of the refinery in 2003 when the company appealed the property tax value Galveston County placed on it.

A BP spokesman watching the court proceedings declined to comment on what happened in court Tuesday.

Opening statements from the oil company's attorneys are expected today.


BP Lawyer Questions Whether Plaintiffs Were Hurt

June 2, 2008, 6:27 pm

May 28, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

Several plaintiffs suing BP for injuries they say resulted from the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion didn't go to a doctor for 18 months after the blast and then only did so at the urging of their lawyers, attorneys for BP told jurors today.

BP attorney Otway Denny introduced the oil giant's case by saying the company accepted responsibility for the blast and always has. The disaster that killed 15 and injured scores more could have been avoided if workers had followed procedures, he said.

BP lawyers Kenneth Tekell and Ronnie Krist noted patterns that some of plaintiffs were not diagnosed or did not complain of any physical or psychological problems until they visited doctors recommended by their lawyers.

They also pointed out that several of the plaintiffs have seen their salaries increase since the explosion, which, they said, calls into question whether their earning potential has suffered because of their alleged injuries.

"The plaintiffs did a very good job of telling us how the accident happened," Krist said, referring to the other side's opening statements Tuesday. "Let's talk about whether any of your clients are hurt."

The trial is expected to continue this afternoon, with plaintiffs attorney Brent Coon calling his first witness.


BP Blast Trial to Resume After Failed Settlement Talks

June 2, 2008, 6:20 pm

May 29, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON — A civil trial arising from the fatal 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery is scheduled to resume Friday after unsuccessful efforts to settle cases today when a juror's illness delayed testimony.

The juror fell ill during the mid-morning recess. State District Judge Susan Criss sent the jury home and ordered lawyers to use the rest of the day working harder toward settlements.

Criss and lawyers for both sides met privately in her chambers during the afternoon.

"This is not for the media," the judge told reporters covering the trial before going behind closed doors. "It would not be conducive to what we're trying to accomplish."

By 4 p.m., however, the talks had proved fruitless, and Criss released everyone until 9 a.m. Friday.

Earlier today each side accused the other of stalling in settlement negotiations, and the judge indicated impatience with the process.

''I don't want to play any more games," she told lawyers gathered at the bench this morning, with some of her comments audible in the courtroom. ''There are a whole lot more people affected than these egos standing in front of me. I'm tired of that crap. Try them, or settle them."

BP has settled most of the 4,000 claims in the explosion that killed 15 people, including all cases involving deaths. About 200 cases still are pending. Jurors were seated and heard testimony in two previous trials, but those cases settled before the juries deliberated.

In the case on trial now, 10 blast victims and four of their spouses are suing the oil giant for injuries allegedly sustained in the explosion.

BP has admitted fault for the explosion but questions the extent of these plaintiffs' injuries and challenges the $950 million in punitive damages they are seeking.

Besides the $2.1 billion it has paid out or set aside for settlements, the company has pleaded guilty to a federal felony clean air violation.

A federal judge has yet to approve the plea deal, which would require BP to pay a $50 million fine that some victims and survivors are challenging as too lenient.


Deals Elude Plaintiffs and BP

June 2, 2008, 6:13 pm

May 29, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON — A civil trial arising from the fatal 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery is scheduled to resume today after unsuccessful efforts to settle cases Thursday when a juror's illness delayed testimony.

The juror fell ill during the midmorning recess. State District Judge Susan Criss sent the jury home and ordered lawyers to use the rest of the day working harder toward settlements.

Criss and lawyers for both sides met privately in her chambers during the afternoon.

"This is not for the media," the judge told reporters covering the trial before going behind closed doors. "It would not be conducive to what we're trying to accomplish."

By 4 p.m., however, the talks had proved fruitless, and Criss released everyone until 9 a.m. today.

Earlier, each side accused the other of stalling in negotiations, and the judge indicated impatience with the process.

"I don't want to play any more games," she told lawyers gathered at the bench Thursday morning, with some of her comments audible in the courtroom. "There are a whole lot more people affected than these egos standing in front of me. I'm tired of that crap. Try them, or settle them."

BP has settled most of the 4,000 claims in the explosion that killed 15 people, including all cases involving deaths.

About 200 cases still are pending. Jurors were seated and heard testimony in two previous trials, but those cases settled before the juries deliberated.

In the case on trial now, 10 blast victims and four of their spouses are suing the oil giant for injuries allegedly sustained in the explosion.

BP has admitted fault for the explosion but questions the extent of these plaintiffs' injuries and challenges the $950 million in punitive damages they are seeking.

Besides the $2.1 billion it has paid out or set aside for settlements, the company has pleaded guilty to a federal felony clean air violation.

A federal judge has yet to approve the plea deal, which would require BP to pay a $50 million fine that some victims and survivors are challenging as too lenient.


BP Plant Safety Has Improved Since Blast, Manager Testifies

June 2, 2008, 5:39 pm

May 30, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON — Safety has improved at the BP refinery since a 2005 explosion that killed 15, the plant manager testified this morning in a civil trial arising from that disaster.

"There's more to do, but we've made progress," testified Keith Casey, who said he was brought in to change the safety culture at the refinery following the 2005 disaster.

He said the plant lost $1 billion in 2007 and continues to lose money because it has been only partially operational since the blast.

Casey testified in the trial of lawsuits brought by 10 men who allege they were hurt in the explosion and four of their wives. They are suing BP for $950 million for physical injuries and mental anguish. The amount is equal to one year's profits at the refinery at the time of the blast, plaintiffs attorney Brent Coon has said.

Coon and plaintiffs attorney Lance Lubel repeatedly questioned Casey about events leading up to the blast and steps BP could have taken prevent it.

Although Casey didn't work at the refinery until last year, he entered a guilty plea on behalf of BP for felony violations of the federal Clean Air Act relating to to the blast. A Houston federal judge has yet to accept or reject the plea deal between BP and federal prosecutors.

It calls for BP to pay a $50 million fine. But some victims are challenging the fine as insufficient.


BP Refinery Faces Safety Fines

December 4, 2006, 3:01 pm

Oil giant BP PLC could face more than $384,000 in fines over workplace safety violations at its refinery along Lake Michigan even as the company says it is making "solid progress" to correct those problems.

Scott Dean, a BP spokesman in Warrenville, Ill., said BP has so far fixed more than half of the 14 violations and is working to address the remaining ones at its Whiting refinery.

Inspectors with the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited BP Nov. 15 for eight "serious" violations, including failing to test equipment such as fire hydrants at the Whiting refinery based on inspections this year.


BP Contempt Hearing Delayed

December 4, 2006, 1:29 pm

Officials with BP will have to wait more than a week before finding out if a judge will hold the company in contempt of court.

A hearing related to a mailer sent out by BP on the eve of a trial in a wrongful-death case has been postponed until Dec. 11.

Judge Susan Criss of the 212th State District Court is still fuming about a letter BP sent to nearly 1,000 people just as jury selection was to begin in the case of Eva Rowe, 22, who sued over the death of her parents.


Victims say BP Not Doing its Part

December 4, 2006, 1:27 pm

Three survivors of the BP refinery explosion that killed 15 people want a judge to review how the oil giant is meeting its legal obligations to pay their past and and future medical bills.

And if state District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston finds in a hearing Friday that BP can't prove it has complied with its settlement agreements with Alisa Dean, Tracy Donaie and Enrique Rivera, the trio want their lawsuit against BP to go to trial in January.


BP’s Use of Snoops Under Fire

December 4, 2006, 1:20 pm

TEXAS CITY — BP’s defense team hired private investigators to gather information on a 22-year-old woman whose parents were killed in the 2005 explosions at the Texas City refinery, court records state.

BP’s defense attorneys hired private investigators to keep tabs on Eva Rowe, members of her legal team and the girlfriends of some of the plaintiff’s attorneys, according to court records.


First Civil Trial From British Petroleum Plant Blast in Texas City Set to Begin

November 8, 2006, 2:55 pm

Brent W. Coon & associates gets ready to take this case to trial. Eva still asking for reform.


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