Criss to Coon: Wrap it up

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jul. 2, 2008, 12:52pm

Judge Susan Criss

GALVESTON – Galveston County 212th District Judge Susan Criss has given plaintiffs' attorney Brent Coon of Beaumont up until noon on July 8 to finish the seven-week trial against BP.

The 10 plaintiffs in the trial which began May 22 are suing BP for $950 million in punitive damages for injuries they allegedly suffered in the March 2005 explosion at the company's Texas City refinery. Fifteen workers were killed in the blast and hundreds more were injured,

At seven weeks, this is the longest an explosion-related civil trial has lasted. The trial has pushed back a number of criminal cases awaiting Criss.

Jurors have heard from ex-workers, environmental safety experts, and former company division heads. On July 1 they listened to testimony from a 42-year-old contractor who still works for the company that placed her at the eventual blast site three years ago.

Meanwhile, negotiations between the plaintiffs and the petroleum company continue.

Lawyers for BP said they need a few days to square things away prior handing their case to the jury.

Criss has asked the victims' lawyers in any remaining cases to immediately decide whether to settle or go to trial.

The judge sent an e-mail over the weekend emphasizing that a decision must be made and the affected parties not "worry about what someone else got."

Less than 30 claims against the London-based oil major remain on Criss' docket as of July 1, a far cry from the more than 4,000 at the start of the class action lawsuit.

Although the petroleum company admits culpability in the incident, it believes the event cannot be fully responsible for all of the reported injuries.

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.

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