5/28/2008 12:00 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.
Wrongful death cases will be argued first, followed by on-the-job personal-injury suits. Cases regarding off-site injury and property damage round out the docket.
Brent Coon of Beaumont and attorneys Paul Cassell, David Perry, and Mark Lanier are representing the complainants. Coon had argued in each of the opening cases that the energy company disregarded safety for profit.
BP believes the blasts cannot be fully blamed for the reported injuries though it bears responsibility for the incident, which killed 15 and injured more than 170.
Mental anguish is broadly discussed among the litany of damages sought against BP. A number of Plaintiffs claim to suffer from recurring nightmares and lingering depression since the blasts.
Close to 75 percent of the suits have been settled. Two prior cases closed with both parties reaching settlement before the jury heard complete testimony.
In October 2007, the oil major's North American products division agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the federal Clean Air Act, pay a $50 million fine, and serve three years of probation. The plaintiffs, however, are not satisfied and argue that the pending plea bargain between BP and the government is too lenient.
U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal has not made a final ruling on the agreement.
BP has paid more than $1 billion in victim compensation and a fine of $21.4 million to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration since the start of the case.