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BP Settles With Family of Blast Victim

October 23, 2006, 10:21 am

Wednesday September 13, 7:11 pm ET By Paul J. Weber, Associated Press Writer
Family of Engineer Who Was Killed in BP Refinery Explosion in Texas Settles With the Company

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- The family of an engineer who was among the 15 killed in a BP PLC refinery explosion last year settled with the company Wednesday, a week before jury selection is set to begin in the first civil trial stemming from the deadly blast. The settlement reached between BP and the family of Ryan Rodriguez, who worked for contractor JE Merit, leaves the London-based oil company facing trial for just two of the deaths from the March 23, 2005, explosion.

Attorneys for the family of James and Linda Rowe, who were in a trailer near the explosion at the Texas City plant, said they still intend to take the case to trial.

"We're ready to go," said Arturo Gonzalez, one of the attorneys representing Eva Rowe, the daughter of the victims.

State District Judge Susan Criss set jury selection to begin Sept. 20 and opening statements for Sept. 25. BP lawyers asked Wednesday for a continuance, and Criss is expected to decide Friday on whether to grant the motion.

Attorneys on both sides said Wednesday they were still finalizing the jury questionnaire, which they expect to be finished early next week.

Glen Morgan, an attorney for Rogriguez's family, and a BP spokesman did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press about the settlement.

BP spokesman Neil Chapman has previously said that the company's focus has been on settling without the need for litigation.

The trial will be the first set of civil lawsuits stemming from the accident that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others. The trial is expected to last five weeks.

BP has publicly accepted responsibility for the blast, and has made settlements with many victims.

James Rowe, 48, and Linda Rowe, 47, both of Hornbeck, La., were killed when the trailer they were in was leveled by the blast.

Two injury cases set to be heard in the first trial involve Calvin Bolds, 49, and Kenneth Grant, 48. Both are contract employees who were severely hurt while working near the blast site.

The explosion happened when faulty sensors didn't warn of gathering vapors near the plant's isomerization unit, a gasoline octane booster. The vapors ignited as the unit was starting up.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies investigating the blast, concluded the isomerization unit had a history of problems and lacked equipment that could have prevented or minimized the accident.

The report also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant, about 40 miles southeast of Houston, and failed to fix problems.

A second set of cases is scheduled for trial Nov. 7 and a third for Feb. 26.


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