June 2, 2008
By BRAD HEM
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 has settled most of about 4,000 claims resulting from the explosion. The third civil trial to go before a jury, involving claims of 10 workers from nearby facilities and four of their wives, continued Monday.
The plant manager at the time of the March 2005 blast that killed 15 people and injured scores more, Don Parus, testified the company was not taken aback by research he did as a new plant manager in 2004 that showed nearly two dozen people had died at the refinery in the previous 30 years.
"It didn't shock anybody like I thought it would," said Parus, who was on paid leave from a few weeks after the blast until leaving BP on Jan. 1 of this year.
Parus testified that his findings prompted him to launch a worker survey. They ranked making money as BP's top priority and people as the lowest.
Parus said he asked for more money to make infrastructure improvements, was given a budget increase and then BP cut it back.
"I pushed back ... on every front," he said.
Plaintiffs' attorneys portrayed Parus as someone who tried to fix problems despite opposition from executives holding the purse strings, only to become a scapegoat later.
Parus said he was put on leave because BP said he would need his time to assist blast investigations, but he never was consulted.
"I felt like I was in organizational solitary confinement," he said.