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Plaintiffs Seek Billion in Punitive Damages Over Texas Refinery Malfunction

BP is facing the first of nearly 48,000 lawsuits alleging toxic exposure from people in the area of a Texas refinery who have promised to give the billions of dollars in punitive damages they seek to a charity, should their litigation be successful, according to Bloomberg.com. The residents allege that BP knowingly exposed them to […]

bp_billions_damagesBP is facing the first of nearly 48,000 lawsuits alleging toxic exposure from people in the area of a Texas refinery who have promised to give the billions of dollars in punitive damages they seek to a charity, should their litigation be successful, according to Bloomberg.com.

The residents allege that BP knowingly exposed them to cancer-causing gases for a five-week period in 2010 without giving any warning. The six plaintiffs, who are involved in the state court trial that just commenced in Galveston, Texas, are seeking up to $200,000 each in actual damages, as well as $10 billion in punitive damages, In court papers, the plaintiffs indicated that the punitive damage award would be donated,Bloomberg.com reported.

According to the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, speaking to Bloomberg.com, BP intentionally vented about 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals—the mix included benzene—from a defective refinery unit to a flare BP knew could not eliminate the toxins. BP would have lost in excess of $20 million had it closed down the unit during repairs, he added. BP denies that anyone was injured by the since-sold refinery emissions.

The Texas City emissions incident took place at the start of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, which was the result of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana, which involved drilling of a BP well, according to Bloomberg.com. To date, BP has paid in excess of $30 billion in costs for spill cleanup, fines, and damages. BP faces thousands of injury and damage claims that are currently pending in federal court in New Orleans.

This is not the first time BP Products North America has faced litigation over the Texas City refinery, which was sold to Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC) in a transaction announced last year. Following a 2005 explosion there that killed 15 workers and left hundreds injured, more than 3,000 people sued BP, which paid $2.1 billion in claims settlement, Bloomberg.com reported.

Another 100 area residents sued BP in a separate action over health issues after a leak of unidentified gas took place over one hour in 2007. The jury awarded more than $100 million for the first 10 of emission claims and nearly all of the punitive damages sought. According to Bloomberg.com, a trial judge tossed out the 2009 award; verdicts were overturned on appeal.

The plaintiff’ attorney claims that this matter is different, saying that this involves a documented 40-day case that BP acknowledges occurs and which involved carcinogens. In 2011, BP agreed to pay the state of Texas $50 to settle air-pollution violations at the location from 2005 through 2011, which involved release of some 500,000 pounds of toxins in the 2010 flaring incident.

We previously wrote that the chemical release allowed 17,000 pounds of benzene to leak into the air over a 40-day period between April and May. The incident began on April 6, when BP said a fire compromised a seal on an ultracracker hydrogen compressor. The malfunction forced the company to flare off gases. As it worked to fix the unit over the next 40 days, the plant released 538,000 pounds of pollutants into the air, BP told regulators.

BP reported the incident to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the day after it happened; however, information about the release wasn’t made public until BP submitted a final incident report to regulators on June 4. Following the incident, people in the area complained of allergic reactions, sinus infections, headaches, nosebleeds, and other symptoms consistent with benzene exposure.

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