BP Exposed Neighbors to Toxic Gases, Jury Told at Trial

BP Plc (BP/) deliberately exposed neighbors of a Texas refinery to tons of cancer-causing gases and then misled regulators and community leaders about the dangers, a lawyer told a Texas jury.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations shortly on the first three of almost 48,000 toxic-exposure claims to come to trial. The plaintiffs seek as much as $200,000 each in actual damages, plus $10 billion in punitive damages which, they said in court papers, they would donate to charity.

“This is not an assault on the oil and gas industry,” Tony Buzbee, the residents’ lead attorney, told the state-court jury in Galveston today during closing arguments, after four weeks of trial. “This is about the worst polluter in the country finally having its feet held to the fire.”

BP intentionally vented at least 500,000 pounds (227,000 kilograms) of toxic chemicals, including benzene, from a faulty refinery unit in Texas City to a flare the company knew was incapable of destroying the toxins, Buzbee told the jury of eight women and four men. He said the London-based company would have lost more than $20 million if it had shut the unit down during repairs.

“This ain’t an accident, it’s a corporate policy,” he said. BP could have shut the refinery down when the production unit failed, he said. Management “purposely sent those chemicals over the fence with conscious indifference to the consequences.”

Gross Negligence

Judge Lonnie Cox said jurors could consider whether BP acted with gross negligence, which could lead to punitive damages based in part on BP’s net worth.

BP denies anyone was injured by emissions from the refinery, which was later sold.

The refinery’s flare was highly efficient during the incident and destroyed or dispersed virtually all toxins vented to it, Damond Mace, one of BP’s trial attorneys, told jurors at the beginning of trial.

Fence-line and community air monitors showed no elevated readings of any hazardous gasses during April and May of 2010, and no regulatory air standards were violated, Mace said.

The case is In re MDL Litigation Regarding Texas City Refinery Ultracracker Emission Event Litigation, 10-UC-0001, Texas 56th Judicial District Court (Galveston).

To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com; Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit at mcfisk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.