Lawsuits Likely in Aftermath of BP Refinery Blast

While investigators now believe that the March 23 BP refinery explosion was preceded by a geyser of flammable chemicals in the area where the blast occurred, it's highly likely that the aftermath will include a flood of litigation.

The legal maneuverings started as early as the day after the explosion -- which killed 15 contractors and injured about 100 at BP Amoco's 1,200-acre refinery in Texas City, Texas -- when attorneys representing several of the victims filed for a temporary restraining order asking emergency workers and other officials to preserve evidence that might offer clues to the cause of the explosion.

Six days later, Galveston County District Court Judge Susan Criss issued a ruling allowing an investigation team hired by the Houston-based Ammons Law Firm to have access to the explosion site to ensure that crucial evidence is documented, with the stipulation that the team doesn't interfere with the ongoing investigations of federal and local authorities.

The move likely will be just the first round of legal action taken against BP.

Attorney Rob Ammons, whose law firm filed for the temporary restraining order at the request of another firm representing some of the victims, says he is representing more than 60 workers -- all of them contractors -- who were injured or killed during the explosion.

While it could be months before CSB officials reach any definitive conclusions about the cause of the March 23 blast, Ammons said it's not necessary to wait until then to take legal action against BP, because, he asserts, it's not necessary to understand the technical aspects of what went wrong to determine that BP was negligent.

"They blew up the plant," Ammons said of BP. "That's a pretty good indication that somebody did something wrong."

Ammons said that most of his clients were working on the ultracracker unit -- and not the isomerization unit that was the epicenter of the explosion -- when the blast occurred. BP has confirmed that most of those who perished were in a mobile trailer planning turnaround work on the ultracracker unit. The proximity of such mobile trailers to ground zero of the blast is something CSB investigators say they're analyzing.

"Not only were my clients not working on the [isomerization] unit when it blew up, but they didn't have any idea what was going on in that unit," Ammons said. "It was all under BP Amoco's control. BP Amoco is responsible for where they put the trailers they're meeting in. BP Amoco is responsible for turning the valves for starting their unit and pushing buttons and monitoring what's going on in the 'isom' unit.

"Most of these workers were there for the ultracracker unit -- they were non-essential. BP did not notify them and allowed them to be in the zone of danger when this 'isom' unit started up" after several weeks of maintenance.

Workers represented by Ammons are suffering from injuries ranging from shattered bones to "catastrophic major orthopedic injuries" to broken backs, he says. Whenever the lawsuits are filed, victims of the blast will be seeking redress for lost wages/future earning capacity, medical expenses, physical suffering and mental anguish.

Ammons would not say how much his clients will be seeking in damages -- OCCUPATIONALHAZARDS.COM has documented several recent cases in which injured workers have been awarded millions of dollars in damages -- but he did say that "every verdict sends a message to try to deter companies from unsafe conduct in the future."

"Certainly when you have someone who's been catastrophically injured or killed and that person is completely innocent of any wrongdoing, it makes for a very compelling case against the wrongdoer," Ammons said.

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