Give BP a chance

The SE Texas Record Sep. 8, 2007, 11:58am

When is enough, enough?

For oil giant BP, which has already settled 1,300 claims and paid out some $2 billion to those injured or adversely affected by its 2005 Texas City refinery explosion, a series of Galveston juries will now decide.

The very first was seated last week. It will hear the lawsuit claims of four BP contractors who charge the explosion caused them assorted minor maladies. They include mental anguish, hearing loss and back pain.

Indeed, we've arrived at the bottom of BP's Texas City lawsuit barrel. But that doesn't mean plaintiff's lawyers aren't still aiming high.

Beaumont's Brent Coon, representing the first quartet, figures he needs to cast BP in the worst light possible if he hopes to convince jurors it is guilty of "gross negligence." That would ratchet up the potential damage award for Coon and his clients from a few hundred thousand dollars each into the millions.

Alas, during jury selection last week, Coon was audacious. He even tried a trick of guilt-by-subconscious association, putting a picture of disgraced Houston energy company Enron's logo on a large screen behind him as he spoke to potential jurors. Judge Susan Criss made him take it down, but she didn't ask Coon to tone down his rhetoric.

"Inside the plant, it was hell on Earth," Coon promised prospective jurors. "People were screaming and running. These workers were running for their lives."

The part about his clients making it out of the refinery safe and sound, unlike those killed or seriously hurt, was left on the Brent Coon & Associates cutting room floor. BP's attorney later pointed out that some of these plaintiffs didn't report their back problems until over a year after the accident. Until they visited a chiropractor they were referred to by their lawyer, Mr. Coon.

Such a detail, and Coon's Enron stunt, serve to remind many readers why they have the feelings they do for plaintiff's lawyers. They also hint that these upcoming BP trials, aimed not at making the aggrieved whole but at squeezing a bit more gravy out of a community tragedy, threaten to expose the worst ambulance-chasing tendencies of our local civil justice system.

With a worldwide audience watching Southeast Texas, let's hope not.

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