May 29, 2008
By BRAD HEM
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.