Texas judge sets aside $100M verdict in BP case

Marilyn Tennissen Mar. 18, 2010, 8:28am

A federal judge has ruled that 10 workers who sued BP over injuries from a chemical release at the Texas City refinery did not prove the oil company was grossly negligent, setting aside a $100 million verdict.

On March 16, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt rejected a Texas jury's award of punitive damages last December after a trial over a hazardous chemicals release. The workers said they were exposed to the chemicals while repairing two refining units damaged in a plantwide 2005 shutdown prior to Hurricane Rita's strike on the Texas Coast.

The jury found BP to be grossly negligent and awarded the 10 workers $100 million in punitive damages.

But Judge Hoyt noted that gross negligence required proof of an extreme risk of harm which BP ignored and took no steps to minimize.

Hoyt ruled that a reasonable jury could conclude that BP was the source of the release and that the company was negligent, but a finding of gross negligence was necessary to support the punitive damages award.

Plaintiffs' attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement that the ruling gave refineries a "free pass" from actions that cause harm to workers.

Judge Hoyt let stand more than $325,000 in damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses and lost wages.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said that while the company agreed with Hoyt's ruling, BP maintains that the evidence did not support a verdict "in any amount" and that BP still aims to appeal the remaining monetary damages.

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