BP agrees to settle with 4 victims of 2005 refinery explosion

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 19, 2007, 6:38am

Brent Coon

BP agreed Sept. 18 to settle claims by four victims of an explosion at its Texas City refinery, ending the first trial over the March 2005 explosion. The terms were not disclosed.

The trial over the 2005 accident, which killed 15 people and injured 170, began Sept. 5. It was the only one of hundreds of lawsuits from the accident to make it to trial.

''It occurred overnight,'' BP spokesman Neil Chapman told the Associated Press after the deal was announced in court. ''We don't talk about the settlements. All I can say is we've worked since the explosion to settle so people don't have to go to court.''

More than 1,300 other suits have been settled.Before the latest settlement, the explosion cost the London oil company at least $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profit.

Beaumont attorney Brent Coon is representing the plaintiffs.

Chapman said the company "worked very hard to settle cases right from the very beginning so people don't have to go to court."

Judge Susan Criss ordered all the remaining cases into mediation last week. She said Tuesday that at least 1,200 were pending.

The agreements announced Tuesday resolved the claims of Nara and David Wilson, both 44; Scott Kilbert, 48; and Rolando Bocardo, 41. They suffered back injuries, hearing loss and post-traumatic stress syndrome, lawyers said. Jury selection started Aug. 30.

The four were working at the refinery when an octane-boosting unit overflowed as it was being restarted. Gasoline vapors spilled into a vent system and ignited. The explosion was felt five miles away.

BP accepted responsibility for the accident while saying it had never intentionally jeopardized workers. The company pledged to spend $1 billion to repair and upgrade the Texas refinery, the company's largest. The refinery processes 460,000 barrels of oil a day when fully operational.

The brief trial in Galveston featured testimony from Don Parus, the former manager of the plant, who defended the company's safety record and denied assertions that profits drove delays in repairs.

A fifth lawsuit that was also set to be tried, filed by the estate of a contract worker whose suicide was attributed to trauma from the accident, was settled just before the trial began.

BP has not disclosed the size of any settlements other than a $38 million donation to schools and hospitals. That was part of an agreement with Eva Rowe, who received an undisclosed amount of money last November after losing both of her parents in the explosion.

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