On Tuesday this week, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt negated punitive damages against the London-based British Petroleum in a toxic fumes case. The ten plaintiffs in this case had alleged that on April 19, 2007, BP had been negligent in allowing a release of airborne chemicals.

At the time, about 100 workers went to local hospitals for a checkup and possible treatment, but only ten eventually filed the lawsuit. In December, 2009, the Galveston jury awarded them $100 million in punitive damages. BP appealed and the Judge has now awarded the ten plaintiffs a combined total of $340,660 as being a more appropriate amount for their relatively minor injuries. $100 million exceeds the Texas state limit, he said.

Judge Hoyt took over this case after the original judge, one Samuel Kent, was sent to prison for obstructing an investigation into whether he had abused female staff members.

BP Denies Negligence in This Case

BP claims that it was not negligent at all and that nothing should be awarded to these plaintiffs.

  • “We agree with the court’s decision to set aside the punitive damage award,” BP spokesman Scott Dean stated. “Having said that, we continue to believe that the evidence in the case did not warrant a finding against the company in any amount and that we have solid legal grounds for an appeal.”

BP continues to claim that there is no evidence these workers were exposed to anything beyond what is permissible according to federal regulations, and that there is no proof that the company was at fault in any way.

A Second Case Regarding The Same Incident

In relation to the same incident in April of 2007, another case was filed claiming that BP had failed to maintain equipment and provide proper safety controls. This was filed by a contract worker at the BP plant and expanded to include 143 other workers from a dozen or more contract companies.

These plaintiffs claimed they were given flu-like symptoms by carbon disulfide while they were working on two refining units. The same Galveston jury wanted to award these plaintfiffs $10 million each for their symptoms although they did not actually have the flu and their symptoms were temporary.

Judge Hoyt ruled that the plaintiffs should receive only actual damages which range from $5,918 to $244,386. He agreed that BP was indeed responsible for the chemical release but the facts presented in the case did not justify punitive damages.

An attorney for the first group of ten plaintiffs, one Tony Buzbee, stated:

  • “The judge acknowledges that BP is a bad actor, but, whatever reason, decides that a jury who hears three weeks of evidence should be ignored, and takes away the ability of ordinary folks’ ability [sic] to fight back.”

However, he plans to represent another group of ten plaintiffs in relation to this same chemical release, and regards this first trial as “just a skirmish in the war.”

If you have been injured by a property owner’s negligence, you may have a valid premises liability claim. To learn more about your legal status and options, please contact our Mobile, Alabama office for a free case evaluation.

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