(Bloomberg) -- BP isnt liable for pollution-related
injuries claimed by the first of almost 48,000 people who sued
over tons of cancer-causing gases spewed by a Texas refinery in
2010, a jury said.
Neighbors of the Texas City plant were seeking billions of
dollars in punitive damages. The jury in Galveston, Texas,
found BP negligent, while rejecting the residents claims
that the fumes caused any injuries.
The residents claimed London-based BP intentionally vented more
than 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals to a refinery flare that the company knew
was incapable of destroying them. BP said the flare destroyed
virtually all of the toxic chemicals released by a
malfunctioning production unit during the 45-day emission
incident in 2010.
Todays verdict affirms BPs view that no one
suffered any injury as a result of the flaring of the BP
Ultracracker flare during April and May 2010, Geoff
Morrell, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail. Armed
with the knowledge gleaned from this case and this important
jury verdict, the company will immediately begin to prepare for
any additional proceedings involving other
Tony Buzbee, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was surprised
by the verdict.
But I respect juries, he said in an interview.
This was only the first one. We learned some things. We
will gear up and try another one in a couple of
Ground-level concentrations of harmful chemicals detected by
air-quality monitors in the community and on BPs property
were far, far, far below levels needed to cause
health effects, Damond Mace, the companys lawyer, told
the jury Oct 7.
The critical question is what, if anything, made it down
to ground level where these people were, Mace said during
closing arguments. But even if we look at what came out
of the top of the stack, the amounts of chemicals
released by BP during the incident did not exceed their
permit, he said.
Kenneth Tekell, another of BPs lawyers, told jurors the
three plaintiffs had relatively minor injuries and urged the
panel to exonerate BP of harming anyone.
If the pieces dont fit, you must acquit, and the
pieces dont fit in this puzzle to convict BP,
Tekell said during closing arguments.
Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the refinery said BP exposed them to the
chemicals for weeks without warning to avoid idling the
refinery when a key piece of equipment malfunctioned. Buzbee
told the jury BP would have lost more than $20 million had it
shut the unit down during repairs.
Buzbee asked jurors to make an example of BP with a
multibillion-dollar damages award that would force the company
to clean up practices and policies at its remaining U.S.
refineries. BP sold the Texas City facility to Marathon
Petroleum Corp. in a deal announced last year.
This aint an accident, its a corporate
policy, Buzbee told jurors. BP had 193 emissions
incidents -- 73 of them classified by state regulators as
excessive -- and would continue to pollute unless confronted
with a damages award that made it too expensive for them
to ever do it again, he told the jury.
For the jury of eight women and four men, it all came down to
whether or not anyone was harmed by the emissions,
according to juror Robert Pierce, 67, chief of the Port of
Galveston police department.
These people were all sick and wouldve probably
needed medical treatment anyway, Pierce said in an
interview after the verdict. There was no direct
relationship between their ailments and the refinery incident, he said.
All 12 jurors found BP had negligently caused the toxic-gas
release because they knew what was going to happen, and
they went ahead and did it anyway, Pierce said. The lack
of provable injuries to the three plaintiffs at trial prevented
jurors from finding BP grossly negligent, which would have
triggered punitive damages, he said.
Stephanie Beall, a 47-year-old Galveston pharmacist, said the
question of whether BPs actions created a public nuisance
was one of the tougher ones the jury discussed in 2
1/2 days of deliberations. Jurors werent aware they were
trying test cases until after they rendered their verdict, she
We had no inclination that our decision would impact
47,000 cases, Beall said in an interview outside of
The Texas City emissions incident overlapped the start of
the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which began when a rig
exploded while drilling a BP well off the Louisiana coast. BP,
Europes second-biggest oil company, has spent more than
$26 billion over the spill, including cleanup and claims, BP
said on its website.
BPs Texas City plant was also the scene of a 2005
explosion that killed 15 petrochemical workers and resulted
in payments of $2.1 billion to more than 3,000 local residents
and businesses harmed by the blast.
The company agreed in 2011 to pay Texas $50 million to settle
air-pollution violations at the plant from 2005 through 2011,
which included the release of about 500,000 pounds of harmful
chemicals during the 2010 flaring incident.