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Aaron Wilson Garner et al v BP Amoco Chemical Co et al

December 19, 2009                                                  Bulletin 2009, No. 06


Plaintiffs sued BP Products North America, Inc., in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Harris County, on negligence theories claiming that Defendant failed to exercise due care in the maintenance and operation of its refinery in Texas City, Texas and, as a direct result, a component of the refinery allegedly leaked a toxic substance that injured them in April 2007.  BP Products North America, Inc. (BP), denied any leak or even identify what had been released that made the workers sick. The company also argued the fumes must have come from a source outside the refinery. The Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did not find a leak had come from the refinery.


Plaintiffs presented evidence that tests on one of the worker’s masks found traces of carbon disulfide, a volatile liquid that has a pungent odor. Plaintiffs argued the leak likely came from the refinery’s Sulfur Recovery Unit.


BP "suggested to the press that the entire incident may be a hoax by 'disgruntled workers,'" according to the workers' complaint.


According to trial evidence, 110 individuals, including the trial plaintiffs, were sent by BP to hospitals for medical treatment after the emissions. At the hospitals, men and women were collectively stripped of their clothes and hosed down for decontamination. Hospital records diagnosed "exposure to toxic chemical."


BP "suggested to the press that the entire incident may be a hoax by 'disgruntled workers,'" according to the workers' complaint.


After a three week trial the jury on December 18, 2009, awarded the plaintiffs, who were apparently independent contractors a total of $100.3 million.  $10 million was awarded in punitive damages and actual damages ranging from $5,918 to $244,386 for medical expenses, mental anguish and lost income.


BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell is quoted as saying: “We are shocked by today’s verdict, and we will appeal,” “We believe the evidence showed that BP did not cause harm to anyone on April 19, 2007. The verdict, and punitive damages award in particular, is utterly unjustified, improper and unsupportable.”


Attorney Anthony Buzbee said he, too, was a bit shocked by the jury’s decision. He accused BP officials of being arrogant during the three-week trial.  Mr. Buzbee said he offered to settle claims for $10,000 per worker, but the company would agree to only $500 per worker.


“I told (BP) that with their record, they didn’t want this to go to a jury,” Buzbee said. “BP wouldn’t even pay these workers’ medical bills from when they went to the hospital.”


Some of the plaintiffs were represented by lawyers from the Buzbee Law Firm in Houston, while others were represented by Arnold & Itkin, L.L.P., in Houston.


The Defendants were represented by James Galbraith with the McLeod Alexander Powel & Apffel firm in Galveston.


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