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A settlement on Nov. 9 averted the first civil trial stemming from the deadly explosion in 2005 at the BP refinery in Texas City. The settlement calls for BP to pay a confidential amount of money to plaintiff Eva Rowe, whose parents were among the 15 killed in the explosion. BP, the London-based energy company, agreed as part of the settlement with Rowe to donate at least $32 million to various charities and to industrial safety training programs. “I’m really satisfied with the outcome,” Rowe said in a press conference on Nov. 9. “I wanted to help people, you know, and that’s what I’m able to do now.” Lawyers were prepared to begin selecting a jury on Nov. 9 in Eva Rowe, Individually and as Representative of the Estates of James Rowe and Linda Rowe, Deceased v. BP Products North America Inc., et al. but, instead, the suit settled. Brent Coon of Beaumont, a lawyer for Rowe, told reporters on Nov. 9 that the settlement came together at around 4 a.m. on Thursday. He says he had been talking settlement with lawyers for BP for months, in attempts to settle Rowe’s suit and others, but BP did not agree until a few days before trial to consider some of Rowe’s nonmonetary settlement demands. Scott Dean, a BP spokesman in Chicago, says, “We deeply regret Ms. Rowe’s loss and the loss of all the other individuals who lost loved ones in the explosion, and we are pleased to have settled this case. We have no further comment on the details of the settlement beyond that.” In addition to the many millions going to charity, Coon, of Brent Coon & Associates, said BP also agreed to a method to make public many of the documents collected during discovery in Rowe’s suit. Coon said he has already turned over many of the documents to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is investigating the accident, and the U.S. Department of Justice. But with the protocol set up in the settlement, he said, “at some point, FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests will be able to get those, all of those other documents, into the public domain.” Rowe’s parents and 13 others died as a result of the explosion, and at least 180 people on the refinery site were injured. Although Rowe’s suit would have been the first to go to trial, BP had already negotiated settlements with more than 1,000 people who claimed injuries from the March 23, 2005, explosion. The British company has set aside $1.6 billion to pay claims. In her Third Amended Petition, Rowe alleged BP neglected important maintenance and modifications at the refinery by failing to install a “closed relief vent flare system” to manage excess hydrocarbon liquids and vapors instead of a “Blowdown Drum and Stack” system that is designed to vent hydrocarbon liquids and vapors to the atmosphere. Rowe alleged BP knew years ago that it should have installed the safer flare system but chose not to for cost reasons. The defendants, which also included plant manager Don Parus and contractor JE Merit Constructors Inc., the Pasadena, Calif., company that employed Rowe’s parents, denied the allegations in the suit. James Ebanks, a partner in Houston’s Ebanks, Smith & Carlson who represents JE Merit in the suit, says 212th District Judge Susan Criss signed orders on Nov. 9 dismissing with prejudice claims against his client and against Parus. “The plaintiffs and their attorneys voluntarily dismissed with prejudice any and all claims against JE Merit Constructors related to this incident, prior to the settlement with BP, and they [his client] are extremely pleased with that outcome,” Eubanks says. A lawyer for Parus, Don Riddle, a partner in Riddle & Baumgartner in Houston, says his client is delighted with the dismissal. “It’s withdrawal of their claims of negligence and all of their other claims against him. We feel exonerated and vindicated,” Riddle says. “This comes as a result of a very thorough investigation by the plaintiffs lawyers and investigation by the government, and investigation by BP as well, and those reports, I think, indicate very clearly it was not Mr. Parus’ negligence that contributed to the disaster.” Opening arguments in the trial in Criss’ Galveston court were set to begin on Nov. 13. According to Coon, the settlement calls for BP to pay $12.5 million to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Truman G. Blocker Adult Burn Unit, in memory of the 15 individuals who died in the explosion. Another $12.5 million will go to the Texas A&M University Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, also in memory of the 15 individuals. Additionally, $1 million will go to the Cancer Center at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, in memory of James and Linda Rowe; $1 million to Hornbeck High School in Hornbeck, La., where Linda Rowe had worked before she worked at the BP plant; and $5 million to College of the Mainland in Texas City for safety and process technology training for refinery and chemical plant workers in memory of the 15 who died in the blast. Coon also told reporters that BP pledged to give another $6 million in matching funds. The match is up to $2 million each to Texas A&M, UTMB or the College of the Mainland. “In recognition of that, Eva and I each contributed $100,000 today as seed money,” Coon said on Nov. 9. Coon said his firm represented Rowe on a one-third contingency. Coon said his next BP refinery suit is set for trial in February 2007.

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