GALVESTON, Texas (CN) — BP is poised to settle a mass tort lawsuit with more than 25,000 people who were exposed to toxic emissions from its southeast Texas refinery.
A common sight in Texas, flares intermittently crown refineries and chemical plants like huge Olympic torches.
Flares are as a last-resort pollution-control measure. They burn off excess gases that can't be recycled. They are also deployed during power outages or when plants are shut down for maintenance.
The BP litigation arose from a faulty flare at its Texas City refinery.
Texas City, pop. 46,000, is home to several refineries that ring its deepwater port on Galveston Bay.
More than 40,000 residents of Texas City and neighboring La Marque sued BP, claiming that over 40 days in April and May 2010 the company released more than 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including carcinogenic benzene, after diverting the compounds to the flare that was only 33 to 66 percent efficient.
BP sold the refinery, the state's third-largest, to Marathon Petroleum for $2.4 billion in 2013.
Due to the volume of cases, they were funneled to Galveston County Judge Lonnie Cox by the Texas multidistrict litigation panel, to streamline pretrial proceedings, which is regularly done for asbestos cases.
The panel is made up of five judges appointed by the Texas Supreme Court's chief justice.
Cox dismissed about 20,000 claimants from the case Monday, granting a motion for summary judgment in which BP claimed the litigants had no evidence of damages caused by the toxins.
Anthony Buzbee represents dozens of the more than 25,000 remaining plaintiffs. He is also heading up a plaintiffs' steering committee that asked Cox on Tuesday to appoint a special master to administer settlement payments.
"These were mostly people who didn't respond to repeated requests for information. That is common in a mass tort with this many plaintiffs," Buzbee said in an email about the dismissed cases.
"I expect this case to be fully resolved soon," he added.
Buzbee, a high-profile Houston attorney, is very familiar with BP, having represented litigants who sued the company over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
BP attorney James Galbraith declined comment and the company has not publicized the amount of the impending settlement.
A hearing is set for Tuesday, Sept. 27, for an ad litem attorney to make recommendations for settling minor plaintiffs' claims.
London-based BP undoubtedly is anxious to move past its checkered past in Texas City.
A series of explosions and fires at the refinery in March 2005 killed 15 workers and injured 180, resulting in a $21 million fine and an OSHA settlement agreement.
BP agreed to pay the government a $50 million fine in August 2010 after regulators found it had not corrected safety violations in compliance with the 2005 settlement.
BP acquired the refinery in 1999 when it merged with Amoco.Follow @cam_langford
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.