BP continues defense as more plaintiffs settle out of court

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jul. 10, 2008, 6:00am

Brent Coon

GALVESTON – BP launched its defense as the third trial arising from the March 2005 explosions at the petroleum company's Texas City refinery entered its eighth week.

BP's lawyers brought in Karen Olson, a former senior permitting expert for the state's air quality agency, to testify Tuesday. Olson stated a permit application met standards despite containing missing and incorrect information.

She also contested allegations the London-based oil major purposely left out necessary information about the unit that triggered the fatal blasts on its permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Contrary to California-based air quality expert Jim Tarr's testimony three weeks ago, the private environmental consultant and ex-TCEQ senior technical specialist explained that permit rules did not deem the inclusion of information about the unit essential.

Olson spoke again on Wednesday, but an emergency involving a juror's spouse cut the trial short. The jury was dismissed for the day while lawyers for both sides pushed forward with negotiations in the afternoon.

Plaintiffs' attorneys, led by Brent Coon of Beaumont, rested after Tuesday's arguments. Coon was unable to meet Galveston County 212th District Court Judge Susan Criss's noon deadline to conclude the settlement process thus a number of criminal cases were delayed.

Lead BP attorney Daniel Salyer said 17 cases, including four still in court, remain outstanding as of Wednesday morning. The figure is a far cry from the more than 4,000 at the start of the class action lawsuit.

The current trial, which began May 22, brought forth 10 plaintiffs suing BP for $950 million in punitive damages for injuries they allegedly suffered in the explosions. It is unknown as to the amount agreed upon in the six cases that were settled out of court earlier this week.

To date, the company has paid more than $1 billion in victim compensation.

BP spokesperson Daren Beaudo remarked the trial helped the victims and the defendants get together to facilitate discussions, adding the oil major is interested in settling legitimate claims.

At approximately two months, this is the longest an explosion-related civil trial has lasted.

The incident killed 15 workers and injured more than 170.

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