BP hit with $10 billion class action over chemical release at Texas City refinery

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Aug. 5, 2010, 4:00am


GALVESTON - Alleging BP's Texas City plant emitted dangerous chemicals for 40 days earlier this year, more than 2,000 refinery workers and residents have filed a class action lawsuit seeking punitive damages of at least $10 billion.

Filed by attorney Anthony Buzbee on Aug. 3 in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas, the suit claims more than 540,000 pounds of chemicals, including 17,000 of benzene were released from the Texas City refinery between April 6 and May 16.

The suit lists 2,212 plaintiffs including 10 class representatives.

"The Plaintiffs named in this Complaint have all experienced the symptoms classically associated with Benzene exposure," the suit states. "The minor Plaintiffs have already developed more serious maladies. Plaintiffs and all members of the Class, the Worker Sub-class and the Texas City Sub-class in this case bring this case seeking change."

The 40-day chemical release allegedly began on April 6 when the hydrogen compressor in the Ultracracker unit went offline.

"The hydrogen compressor is responsible for trapping noxious chemicals and, without it working, BP opted to send the gasses to a flare," the suit alleges. "BP did this, even though it knew the flaring process would be, at best, incomplete and allow some chemicals to escape into the atmosphere. BP followed this 'procedure' until May 16 when the compressor was repaired or restarted; however, during this time period, BP continued to operate the refinery's Ultracracker."

The plaintiffs allege BP was trying to avoid loss of profit and negative publicity in the financial press and investors.

"BP profits over the safety of people," the suit states.

The company said in a news release that it does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with the release.

The plaintiffs insist that the reported exposure to extremely high levels of benzene and other toxic chemicals while either working at the plant or residing in Texas City injured and jeopardized the long-term health of tens of thousands of individuals.

"Amazingly, BP did not inform Texas City officials of the scale of the release until after the forty-day release was over," the suit says.

BP's acts of negligence, according to the suit, includes:

Causing or permitting to be caused a release of numerous toxic substances, including benzene;
Failure to maintain a safe work place;
Failure to have a reliable system or device at its refinery to prevent the release or warn of the release;
Failure to perform work in a safe and prudent manner;
Failure to exercise reasonable and prudent care in the operations which were occurring at the refinery on the date of the incident in question;
Failure to implement, follow and enforce proper operations procedures;
Failure to implement, follow and enforce proper safety procedures; and
Failure to implement, follow, and enforce proper hazard analysis.

The plaintiffs specifically plead the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, claiming the character of the release is such that it would not ordinarily happen in the absence of negligence.

Other causes of action include common law assault and battery and private nuisance for causing "substantial and unreasonable interference with the Texas City residents' use and enjoyment of their properties and have materially diminished their value."

BP should pay punitive damages of at least $10 billion because it routinely underreports, or fails to report, to the authorities and victims the nature and quantity of chemical spilled at its refinery, according to the complaint.

In addition, plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent defendant from destroying or altering any evidence of the leak or the substance leaked.

Other relief requested includes economic and compensatory damages in amounts to be determined at trial, but not less than the $5 million required by the Class Action Fairness Act; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest; attorneys' fees and costs of litigation.

Case No. 3:10-cv-00295

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