Only one BP civil case remains after four more settlements

Marilyn Tennissen Aug. 26, 2008, 8:36am

Brent Coon

After more than 4,000 suits filed against BP by victims of the 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, there is now only one civil case left on the books.

On Aug. 22, attorneys and the company announced the settlement of four more lawsuits, leaving just one in Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss' court. According to the Houston Chronicle, that lone state case is one in which BP alleges there is no evidence of a claim.

After an explosion killed 15 workers and injured more than 100 others, thousands of lawsuits were filed on behalf of victims. Beaumont attorney Brent Coon has coordinated the cases, and negotiated settlements for all of the death suits.

Terms of the latest and all previous settlements are confidential.

After the explosion, BP set aside $2.1 billion to resolve plaintiffs' claims. Three times trials were begun in Criss' court, but all were settled before they reached the jury. BP has also spent about $1 billion overhauling the Texas City plant.

The explosion occurred after a blowdown stack overfilled with flammable liquid hydrocarbons. The excess fluid and vapors were released and ignited when an isomerization unit started up. Most of the fatalities were workers in a trailer located near the unit.

Although the end is in sight for the civil litigation, a criminal case against BP in federal court is still up in the air.

BP was charged with violations of the federal Clean Air Act. A proposed plea agreement would put the company on probation for three years and require it to pay a $50 million fine, the largest ever imposed for a violation of the Clean Air Act.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston has not yet decided if she will accept the deal.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported last week, victims have complained that the plea and fine are much too lenient. They allege that BP has already failed to live up to required safety upgrades and methods for reporting its progress.

Federal prosecutors submitted a letter to Judge Rosenthal from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency said that according to current reports, BP is complying with a 2005 agreement.

The same day the four civil settlements were announced, victims' reiterated their assertions in another filing to Rosenthal.

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