BP Plant Blast Trial Jurors to Be Picked
Thursday, November 9, 2006; 1:02 AM
GALVESTON, Texas -- Jurors will be selected in the first civil trial stemming from last year's deadly explosion at BP PLC's Texas City plant that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others.
Eva Rowe is suing BP for the deaths of her parents, James and Linda Rowe, contract workers from Hornbeck, La., who were killed in the March 2005 blast.
Her lawsuit is the only remaining one involving fatalities that has not been settled out of court.
Jury selection beginning Thursday was expected to take two days to complete. Opening statements in the case are set for Monday. The trial is expected to last at least a month.
Rowe is also suing former Texas City plant manager Don Parus and J.E. Merit Constructors Inc., which employed her parents.
BP has already settled hundreds of lawsuits related to the blast and has put aside $1.6 billion to resolve legal disputes. That is the same amount Rowe's attorneys are asking for in damages.
Neil Chapman, a spokesman for the London-based oil company, said BP has apologized for the accident and committed more than $1 billion over the next five years to upgrade and maintain the facility.
BP's efforts to inform the community through a letter sent to 900 members of the Texas City Chamber of Commerce about improvements at the plant has been criticized by state District Judge Susan Criss, who is presiding over the case.
She has threatened to fine BP if any potential jurors received the letter and charge the company for assembling a new jury pool if the current one was tainted by last month's letter.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, one of several agencies looking into the blast, has said internal BP documents show that budget cuts of 25 percent from 1998 through 2000 caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery.
"BP can't just say, 'We made honest mistakes and we are sorry for it.' There were no honest mistakes," said Brent Coon, Rowe's attorney.
The explosion at the plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston, occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.
The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons were then vented from the drum and ignited as the isomerization unit _ a device that boosts the octane in gasoline _ started up. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment didn't work properly.
In its initial report in October 2005, the CSB concluded the isomerization unit had prior problems and was not connected to a flare system that would have burned off vapor and prevented or minimized the accident.
The report also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant. Last week, the CSB urged the petroleum industry and federal regulators to eliminate blowdown drums from all U.S. refineries. The CSB's final report won't be issued until at least March.