BP looking to ‘resolve’ many emissions cases
TEXAS CITY — BP is looking to resolve the remaining lawsuits over a massive 2010 emissions event that happened at its former Texas City refinery.
In papers filed in a district court on Tuesday, the company is looking to have a bulk of the cases dismissed but left the door open to settle the cases of residents who live within two miles of the refinery. If the court accepts the deal, about 29,000 of the lawsuits — including some duplicate plaintiffs — would be dismissed with BP looking to resolve the remaining 25,000 by Thanksgiving of 2016.
The deal, outlined in a motion “BP Products’ proposed plan to resolve all claims,” was offered during a status hearing on the remaining cases Tuesday.
It’s estimated that about 49,000 people sued the company over the event that sent about 500,000 pounds of chemicals into the air.
The bulk of the emissions were released through a flare after the failure of a subunit.
Test trial finds negligence
Last month in a test trial of three plaintiffs, a Galveston County jury found BP negligent in the event that happened during a 40-day period in April and May three years ago. That same jury, though, found that there was no proof any of those plaintiffs were injured as a result of the emissions event.
Soon after the verdict, lead plaintiff attorney Tony Buzbee pledged to push for another test trial. Test trials, while used as a benchmark, do not hold the other plaintiffs to the same verdict.
While maintaining that even those living closer to the refinery had exposure levels to chemicals, including benzene, likely did not take in any amounts of chemicals that would make them ill, BP thinks a court could find for the plaintiffs.
“For now, and for the sake of this proposed plan, however, BP will allow for the possibility that some subset of plaintiffs living and working within (two) miles of the BP Texas City Refinery ultracracker flare would prove that he or she was injured by exposure to chemicals emitted by BP during April and May 2010 and have a verdict in his or her favor upheld by the court of appeals and Texas Supreme Court,” the company’s attorneys said in court documents. “But the majority of claimants in this action reside or worked further away — (three, four or five) miles away and many even greater distances.”
BP outlined a plan that “the court and parties begin to implement an efficient process now to dismiss claims that cannot prove merit.” The company seeks also to have about 1,000 cases of workers and contractors at the refinery who also sued have their cases dismissed. The process for the remaining plaintiffs would require that they file documents showing injury.
Why, after securing what was widely considered a huge victory for the company last month, would BP seek to dismiss some cases and try to resolve more than 20,000 and leave open the possibility to settle?
The filing indicates BP, which sold the refinery to Marathon earlier this year, wants to put the case in the rearview mirror.
“Our failure to do so can have only one result — the unnecessary imposition of extraordinary and unreasonable cost and burden on this court, every party and lawyers involved and the citizens of Galveston County,” BP said in the proposal.
“Even assuming that we try the claims of four 6-person groups per year, it would take well over 1,000 years to resolve all the claims,” BP’s attorneys said in the court filing.
Put simply, more trials doesn’t serve anyone, the company said.
That doesn’t mean BP is looking to cede its argument that no one was harmed in the emissions event.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said the proposal, “speaks for itself.”
While disagreeing with how BP is trying to dismiss many of the cases, Buzbee saw the filing as a welcoming sign for his clients.
“This move demonstrates that after that trial and the unanimous negligence finding, BP is convinced that some portion of the populace were exposed sufficiently that they need to pay them,” Buzbee said. “It is also clear that BP realizes that they dodged a bullet, and that the plaintiffs will likely win the next case.”
It is unclear if or when the plaintiffs and the court would consider BP’s offer.
The Daily News
November 20, 2013
Texas City, Texas