GALVESTON, Texas – BP PLC (BP) settled on Thursday the last remaining death-related lawsuit from the 2005 Texas City refinery blast that killed 15, wounded 170 and brought accusations of lax management at the oil company.
Just as jury selection was beginning in what would have been the first civil case from the explosion to go to trial, the woman whose parents had been killed in the blast, and who had refused to settle, relented.
Eva Rowe, 22, walked away with an unknown amount, but the settlement also called for London-based BP to continue to release documents related to the case and to donate millions to schools and medical facilities, including one where victims were treated after the March 2005 explosion.
In the weeks leading to the trial, Rowe steadfastly contended that she was suing BP to focus attention on the accident and to prevent others from happening after the deaths of 48-year-old James Rowe and his wife, Linda Rowe, 47, of Hornbeck, La.
Brent Coon, Eva Rowe's attorney, 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.
The donations, which could total $38 million, include $1 million for the school system in Hornbeck, where Linda Rowe was a teacher's aide. The adult burn unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which treated victims of the blast, will get $12.5 million.
"I am very satisfied to be able to help so many people in the community," Eva Rowe said. "I don't want my parents to be forgotten."
Coon said his law firm will continue to release documents related to the case as long as both sides agree. Any disagreements would have to be settled by a judge.
"We are happy to have been able to resolve this and spare Ms. Rowe the task of bringing this case to trial," said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell. "We were focused on achieving a settlement from Day One."
BP attorney Jim Galbraith said he was pleased with the settlement.
"We deeply want to express our sorrow for the loss that Eva Rowe has sustained," Galbraith said. "We are working hard to make sure nothing like this ever happens again."
Rowe also sued former Texas City plant manager Don Parus and J.E. Merit Constructors Inc., which employed her parents. Both were released from the lawsuit in the settlement.
"This was a profound and tragic explosion," Coon told potential jurors when the settlement was announced to them. "We hope that it never happens again."
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.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 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.
In its initial report in October 2005, the board 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 board urged the petroleum industry and federal regulators to eliminate blowdown drums from all U.S. refineries. The final report won't be issued until at least March.
U.S.-traded shares of BP fell 27 cents to $68.50 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.