May 27, 2008
By BRAD HEM
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.