A federal jury orders BP to pay $100 million to 10 Texas workers who were injured in 2007 by a toxic fume leak at a company refinery
By Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk
(Bloomberg) — BP Products North America (BP) must pay $100 million to 10 workers sickened by toxic fumes at its Texas City, Texas, refinery in April 2007, a federal jury ruled today.
The cases were the first of more than 100 claims from the incident to go to trial in federal court in Galveston, Texas, where jurors awarded $10 million in punitive damages to each victim, according to court records.
"I told the jury that BP has a history as a serial polluter and a convicted felon, and the jury agreed they need to change," lawyer Tony Buzbee, who represented the contractors, said in a phone interview.
The federal jury also awarded the workers actual damages ranging from $5,918 to $244,386. The jury award is the 17th largest in the U.S. in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
BP said it will appeal.
"We are shocked and outraged by today's verdict," Ronnie Chappell, company spokesman, said in an e-mail. "We believe the evidence showed that BP did not cause harm to anyone on April 19, 2007."
The workers claimed that toxic fumes were released from the Texas City plant in 2007, sending more than 100 of them to the hospital for treatment and decontamination.
The BP Plc unit said it didn't release a toxic substance from the plant and disputed injuries claimed by the plaintiffs, according to court papers.
"They said it wasn't us, it just blew through," Buzbee said. "But 70 percent of the time a release happens out there, they don't find it."
The jury awarded about $326,000 in compensatory damages to the 10 workers, with the largest amount, about $244,000, going to Edwin Munoz, who sustained back injuries.
The workers were awarded modest compensatory damages "because they had typical inhalation injuries with no long-term health problems," Buzbee said. "This was about their right to be told what they were exposed to."
The Texas City plant was the site of a 2005 explosion that left 15 dead and injured hundreds. BP pleaded guilty to one violation of the federal Clean Air Act in 2007 after a U.S. investigation of the blast and agreed to pay a $50 million fine. The company also settled more than 4,000 injury and death claims out of a $2.1 billion fund.
The fumes case is Garner v. BP Amoco Chemical Co., 07-00221, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Galveston).