CBSN

BP Explosion Civil Lawsuit Settled

Eva Rowe looks at a photograph of her parents, James and Linda Rowe, who were killed in last year's Texas City BP plant explosion, during an interview Thursday, March 16, 2006, in Beaumont, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
AP Photo
A woman who lost both parents in the explosion that killed 15 people last year at BP's Texas City plant settled her lawsuit against the company Thursday, the same day jury selection was to begin, attorneys for both sides said.

Eva Rowe's case against London-based BP PLC would have been the first civil trial stemming from the March 2005 blast, which also injured 170. Rowe had previously refused to settle — as others had — saying her case was more about focusing attention on the accident to prevent another after the deaths of James and Linda Rowe, of Hornbeck, Louisiana.

BP settled the other fatality cases and has reached agreements on hundreds of lawsuits. It also put aside $1.6 billion to resolve legal disputes related to the explosion. That was the same amount Rowe's attorneys were seeking in damages.

Brent Coon, Eva Rowe's attorney, said financial terms of the settlement are confidential, but stressed that efforts to settle the case always included stipulations that BP make the refinery and other facilities safer.

"Money did not solve all the problems," Coon said.

Part of the settlement will be used to establish endowments and trusts at universities, he said.

"I'll be able to help the community and do a lot of good," Eva Rowe said.

BP spokesman Neil Chapman said the company would not comment.

Rowe is also suing former Texas City plant manager Don Parus and J.E. Merit Constructors Inc., which employed her parents.

"My parents were my best friends, they're all I had. My life ended that day. BP ruined my life. It ended my life. That day I had to start all over," Rowe told 60 Minutes last month.

Chapman said previously that BP has apologized for the accident and committed more than $1 billion over the next five years to upgrade and maintain the facility.

BP's efforts to inform the community through a letter sent to 900 members of the Texas City Chamber of Commerce about improvements at the plant has been criticized by state District Judge Susan Criss, who is presiding over the case.

She has threatened to fine BP if any potential jurors received the letter and charge the company for assembling a new jury pool if the current one was tainted by last month's letter.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), one of several agencies looking into the blast, has said internal BP documents show that budget cuts of 25 percent from 1998 through 2000 caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery.

"BP can't just say, 'We made honest mistakes and we are sorry for it.' There were no honest mistakes," Coon, Rowe's attorney, said.

The explosion at the plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston, occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.

The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons were then vented from the drum and ignited as the isomerization unit — a device that boosts the octane in gasoline — started up. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment didn't work properly.

In a report released last month, the CSB said that before the explosion, a 2003 external BP audit referred to the Texas City plant's infrastructure and assets as "poor" and found what it called a "checkbook mentality."

In its initial report in October 2005, the CSB concluded the isomerization unit had prior problems and was not connected to a flare system that would have burned off vapor and prevented or minimized the accident.

The report also found that BP fostered bad management at the plant. Last week, the CSB urged the petroleum industry and federal regulators to eliminate blowdown drums from all U.S. refineries. The CSB's final report won't be issued until at least March.