Judge dismisses 20,000 cases against BP in benzene release lawsuit

A Galveston County judge has dismissed about 20,000 cases in a massive lawsuit filed against BP after a failure at the company’s Texas City refinery caused 500,000 pounds of chemicals to spew into the air.

About 45,000 people sued the company after pollutants were released through a flare when subunit on the refinery’s ultracracker shut down.

From April 6 to May 16, 2010, a problem with a compressor on the refinery’s ultracracker unit resulted in increased flaring for 40 days as the unit continued to operate. During that time, more than 500,000 pounds of 19 different chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzene, a carcinogen, were released into the air.

A state investigation and subsequent lawsuit found that BP’s decision to keep operating the unit and flares led to a violation of the state’s air quality laws, and the company paid a $50 million fine in a comprehensive settlement with the state that included past air emission violations.

The company has since sold its refinery to Marathon Petroleum Corp.

On Monday, 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox granted BP’s request to remove about half the plaintiffs, who either did not show evidence of damages or didn’t opt into a settlement agreement. The remaining cases will become part of a settlement, Cox said.

A special master, who is appointed by the judge, will determine the portion of the sum for each plaintiff.

The settlement amount has not been made public. The company, which has denied the release caused health problems, did not respond to a phone call. Friendswood attorney Alton Todd, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, also did not return a phone call.

A hearing is scheduled next week for children who sued in the case to ensure they were ably represented. No such hearing is necessary for the remaining adult plaintiffs.

After two so-­called bellwether trials to test the case, juries found the release did not cause harm. In 2013, the jury found the company was negligent but determined the small group of plaintiffs weren’t damaged. In 2014, the jurors found the company was not negligent.”

The Daily News

By: Chacour Koop

Published: September 19, 2016

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