The Firm . The Law and the Land: BP Battles Buzbee

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The Law and the Land: BP Battles Buzbee

In part one of “The Law and the Land,” we reported on Tony Buzbee’s land holdings in Friendswood and the hurdles he said he has faced in developing those properties. In this part, learn more about the chief way Buzbee accumulates the resources to purchase the land; through legal victories.

When Friendswood Attorney Tony Buzbee said, “There’s nothing the law can do to make somebody well,” he was talking about physical health, not financial.

 

Buzbee and colleagues are well on a roll with millions of dollars in recent settlements or victories over BP, Ford Motor Company, FMC Corporation and numerous other companies.

Exact won/loss statistics are hard to compile, but it’s easy to guess that if he were real, even Perry Mason (who lost three cases) would be envious of Buzbee.

In a Buzbee case against BP tried in December 2009 there were 140 plaintiffs. The judge included ten of them in the first trial. The verdict came back for $100.3 million. Buzbee and BP settled the case very quickly after that. While details are confidential, Buzbee said the payment for each plaintiff, “…wasn’t anywhere near that.”

BP is in Buzbee’s crosshairs again. This time he’s representing 30,000 people.

He said the problem at BP’s Texas City Plant started two weeks before their offshore explosion on the Deepwater Horizon 250 miles away.

On April 6, 2010 BP took one of its large compressors out of service. Two smaller backup compressors were put online to handle the job of sending excess chemicals to a flare that is supposed to burn 98% of the substances. Buzbee said BP has had problems with the flare since 2007 and it doesn’t burn efficiently.

“They were basically spewing chemicals over a 46-day period all over Texas City and La Marque. Not only did they lie to Texas City and the State about not ever having a problem like this before…but now we know they had repeated problems,” Buzbee maintains.

His investigations have concluded: “The fence line monitors were alarming a lot during that 46-day period. It turned out that everything that BP told the public and the State was flat out false. All these people who didn’t know the release was going on were going into the clinics complaining of their eyes burning, difficulty breathing and having headaches, like they were being exposed to something and they didn’t know what they were being exposed to.”

In an email, Scott Dean of BP wrote, “During the ultracracker compressor outage of April and May 2010, the community air monitoring network did not show elevated readings. Similarly, the site’s recently enhanced fence line monitoring did not show a ground level impact throughout the event.”

Buzbee’s take is: “There are 30,000 people who claim either property values have decreased or personal injury as a result of being basically being gassed by benzene.”

BP counters with: “Based on our understanding of the facts and circumstances, BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event. BP is not taking or paying such claims,” Dean wrote.

The court has consolidated the cases and a trial is scheduled for next spring.

Buzbee knows money can’t buy good health, but, “The only recourse citizens have is the legal system.”

Although some media have errantly reported that the case is worth $500 billion, it’s only $5 billion.

“It will either get resolved or we will try the case,” he said.

If Buzbee is on the winning side again, most likely the court will appoint someone to come up with a distribution plan. The plaintiffs have to agree to that plan, and then the money is split up.

Buzbee’s typical fee is 25 to 40 percent of his client’s judgments.

He said that’s a small portion of the billion dollars in profit BP makes from the BP plant every year.

But he also seems like he would rather avoid a long court battle.

“If BP’s behaviors changed there wouldn’t be a lawsuit. At least there wouldn’t be for me. I’ve got plenty of other things I could be doing.”

 

Jeff Newpher
Friendswood Journal
September 20, 2011
Friendswood, Texas