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BP Victims to Petition Supreme Court

June 10, 2008, 7:17 pm

June 10, 2008
By Mark Collette
The Daily News

TEXAS CITY — Victims of the March 2005 explosions at BP America’s Texas City refinery are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will review and toss out a government plea deal they say is unfair, a victims’ attorney said Monday.

Attorneys say the case could have lasting effects on victims’ rights in future criminal cases across the nation.

Trial Dates Scheduled for Remainder of BP Lawsuits

June 10, 2008, 7:12 pm

June 2, 2008
Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON — A judge on Monday scheduled for trials the remaining 161 civil lawsuits related to the fatal 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, although she told attorneys she expects at least some of those to be settled beforehand.

State District Judge Susan Criss set 50 cases each for trials on Sept. 2 and Oct. 20 and the remaining 61 on Dec. 1.

BP Plaintiff's Injuries Challenged

June 10, 2008, 7:07 pm

June 4, 2008
Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON — BP lawyers Wednesday challenged the credibility of a man who claimed he was hurt in the March 2005 explosion at the company's Texas City refinery.

In the latest civil trial stemming from the blast, Luis Garcia, 26, is one of 10 workers suing BP for physical or emotional injuries they say resulted from the explosion that killed 15 people and injured scores more. Four of their wives also are plaintiffs.

Victim Recalls Trauma of BP Blast

June 4, 2008, 5:23 pm

Houston Chronicle
June 3, 2008

Luis Garcia was knocked to the ground and felt pain throughout his body when BP's Texas City refinery exploded in March 2005, and the trauma continued to build over the next several days as he learned that people he'd worked with had died, he testified Tuesday.

Garcia was the first plaintiff to take the witness stand in the latest blast-related civil trial against the oil giant. Ten people and four of their spouses are suing BP for physical injuries or emotional trauma they say was caused by the explosion.

Criss Prioritizes Remaining BP Cases

June 2, 2008, 9:38 pm

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau

GALVESTON - With hundreds of lawsuits still pending against BP from the 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, a Galveston judge has come up with a prioritized system to hear the cases.

Judge Susan Criss, 212th District Court, last week notified the plaintiffs' attorneys to organize their clients into groups of eight in hopes of running the mass litigation process smoothly while providing all parties the opportunity of a fair trial.

10 Plaintiffs Seeking $950 Million From BP

June 2, 2008, 9:29 pm

GALVESTON, Texas, May 23 (UPI) -- An attorney in Galveston, Texas, asked jurors to consider $950 million in damages for 10 plaintiffs suing oil giant BP after a 2005 refinery explosion.

The company has said it would set aside $2.1 billion to settle claims over the 2005 explosion that killed 15 people, the Houston Chronicle reported Friday.

BP has already settled many of the 4,000 lawsuits stemming from the incident and has spent more than $1 billion overhauling the plant and installing safety systems, the Chronicle said.

Two cases have gone to trial but were settled before jurors heard any evidence, the newspaper said.

Latest BP Refinery Blast Trial Gets Started

June 2, 2008, 9:14 pm

May 22, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

The latest personal injury trial related to the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery reached the courtroom today, and lawyers for injured workers began jury selection by questioning members of a panel about potential biases.

Plaintiffs' attorney Lance Lubel spent the morning asking the 200 potential jurors basic questions about whether they ever worked for BP, owned stock in the company or felt or saw the blast when it happened.

Several in the pool expressed outrage that someone could sue a company for mental anguish. Others said they would never award punitive damages regardless of the facts in the case.

"Everybody has mental anguish, but do they deserve money for it? No. Never." said one potential juror.

A vast majority of blast-related cases have settled. Two other batches have gone to trial, but each time the sides settled before a jury got the case.

It was also revealed during a hearing earlier in the morning that former Texas City refinery manager Don Parus no longer works for BP. He retired on Jan. 1, according to a BP spokesman.

The head of the refinery at the time of the blast, Parus had been on paid leave from the company for nearly three years. He had been named as a defendant in some previous lawsuits but was not named in this case. His name came up because the plaintiffs lawyers tried to serve him a subpoena Wednesday, but he failed to answer the door, attorney Brent Coon said.

Parus opened his door for a FedEx delivery, but stayed away from the process server, Coon said.

Jury Picked for BP Blast Trial After Immigration Queries

June 2, 2008, 7:13 pm

May 23, 2008 By BRAD HEM Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON — After the selection process digressed briefly into the nation's immigration debate, lawyers picked an eight-woman, four-man jury today for a civil trial arising from the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery.

Although two previous juries have heard testimony, they didn't deliberate because the cases were settled during trial, as could the ones now before state District Judge Susan Criss.

BP has settled most of the 4,000 suits filed as a result of the blast, including those involving the 15 deaths and the most serious injuries. The company said it has paid or committed $2.1 billion to settle claims for injuries and deaths.

Cases have been batched together for trial, and the one under way now involves 10 blast victims and four of their spouses.

The ethnicity of the victims — seven are Latino, two are black and one is white — prompted plaintiffs' attorney Brent Coon to ask the nearly 200 potential jurors whether race might affect their opinions of the case. The fact that immigration is a hot-button political issue was also part of the reason for the questions, Coon said.

When he asked whether any of the panelists had opinions about the subject, hands went up.

"I just have an issue with people coming from other countries having the same rights as we do if they don't deserve them," said one woman.

Another asked whether the plaintiffs are U.S. citizens. Coon said he couldn't answer that specifically but said all are in the country legally, either as citizens or with valid work visas.

The woman said the plaintiffs should not be allowed access to the court system if they are not citizens, even if they are here legally.

One man spoke up to criticize immigration policy but said he could treat the plaintiffs fairly as long as they were "legal."

Coon also drew response from panelists when he said two of his clients speak English but have trouble understanding it.

A woman said it annoys her when people don't speak English in the United States. The blast was more than three years ago, she said, so anyone who was there and didn't speak English should have had time to learn.

But another prospect suggested the men might have been busy recovering from their injuries and tending to their families instead of attending language classes.

None of these panelists was selected for the jury, which comprises seven whites, three Hispanics and two blacks.

BP won't make an issue of plaintiffs' ethnicities or language skills, company lawyers told the group, but will question the extent of their injuries and challenge their quest of damages.

On Thursday, Coon said he will seek $950 million for the plaintiffs.

Unless the cases are settled in the meantime, testimony will begin Tuesday.

Many of the plaintiffs' allegations mirror those in the previous trials — that BP knew years before the blast that the plant was unsafe, but failed to invest in upgrades and improvements because of pressure to cut costs.

In opening statements for the two trials last year, BP lawyers painted plaintiffs as opportunistic, overstating minor injuries for a big payoff. The defense criticized plaintiffs for failing to see doctors until a year or more after the blast, some only after they had consulted with lawyers.

The explosion happened when a tower overfilled with hydrocarbons, which spewed out of a blowdown stack and created a vapor cloud that ignited. Fifteen people died and scores more were injured. BP's post-blast, $1 billion overhaul of the plant includes replacing such stacks with flares, which burn off excess vapors and liquid.

Third BP Blast Trial Beginning with Familiar Accusations

June 2, 2008, 7:06 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 morning.

Coon began his opening statement with an animated re-enactment of the events leading to the blast, which killed 15 people and injured scores more. Several plaintiffs wept and one of them left the room when Coon played audio recordings of the explosion 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 is opening the trial in a similar manner to previous cases that were settled before going to the jury. He old jurors BP knew the refinery was in bad condition, cut budgets instead of making improvements and ignored warnings about problems.

The London-based oil giant has acknowledged 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 equal to one year's profit from the Texas City refinery.

The March 23, 2005, explosioned happened when a raffinate splitter overflowed into a neighboring blowdown drum. The blowdown drum then overflowed, spewing flammable hydrocarbons into the air. The hydrocarbons formed a cloud at the ground level and ignited when a nearby truck backfired.

Third Lawsuit Opens in BP’s Deadly ’05 Blasts

June 2, 2008, 6:41 pm

By Scott E. Williams The Daily News Published May 28, 2008

TEXAS CITY — Petroleum giant BP placed profits over people, plaintiffs’ attorney Brent Coon said, as he had in the first cases brought to trial over the March 2005 blasts at the Texas City refinery.

The plaintiffs in the trial under way Tuesday in the 212th State District Court are claiming various injuries, stemming from the blasts, which killed 15, injured hundreds more and spawned more than 3,000 lawsuits.

While BP has admitted culpability for the explosions, the company has defended itself in two previous court proceedings, arguing that the blasts were not fully responsible for the claimed injuries.

In both prior cases, settlements between the parties ended the trials after a few days of testimony.

About three-quarters of all cases have since settled, including all of the wrongful-death lawsuits.

For BP, settling those cases has already exhausted the $1.6 billion the petrochemical giant had set aside for paying settled claims.

At the outset of the mass litigation, 212th State District Court Judge Susan Criss had instructed lawyers to bundle plaintiffs into groups of eight to try the cases as efficiently as possible, while still giving all parties fair trials.

The cases also were scheduled in order of severity, with death cases coming first, followed by personal-injury cases at the refinery.

Cases involving off-site injuries and property damage will follow.

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