BP Could Face 12,000 Plaintiffs Unrelated to the Gulf Oil Spill


BP (BP) may have finally succeeded in plugging the worst oil leak in U.S. history, but it still has 12,000 other unrelated problems to worry about.

According to the National Law Journal, that's the number of residents of Texas City, Tex., who have joined a potential $10 billion class-action lawsuit against the U.K.-based oil company, which failed to notify them about an equipment malfunction at BP's Texas City refinery. The refinery released roughly 500,000 pounds of pollutants into the air between April 6 and May 16 before the malfunction was fixed and the public notified. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 3. in the Southern District of Texas by the Buzbee Law Firm of Houston, represent about 25% of the city's population.

Former CEO Hayward Promised to Focus on Safety After 2005 Accident

Should this case go to trial -- a big if -- BP may have difficulty finding an impartial jury. In 2005, BP's Texas City refinery was the site of one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history. A catastrophic explosion and fire there killed 15 and injured 170 oil workers. Media reports and investigations found that the company put profits over safety (sound familiar?). Tony Hayward was named BP CEO after that accident and promised to focus on safety "like a laser," which sadly never happened either.

Last year, BP said it would challenge a record $87.4 million fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It also was fined $50 million for violating the Clean Air Act. BP says it spent $1 billion upgrading the Texas City plant, but sadly has not learned its lesson, lead attorney Anthony Buzbee told the National Law Journal.

Line to Join Lawsuit "Snaked Through the Hallways"

Thousands of Texas City residents showed up at the convention center where Buzbee's law firm had rented space after it was flooded with calls about the lawsuit. "Some 3,400 of them joined the suit at the center," according to the Journal, "where a long line snaked through the hallways to the sign-up room. His firm had to pay the police extra to stay another hour. Some vendors even sold tacos outside."

The oil company also managed to anger officials in a state that prides itself on being pro-business. Texas environmental officials found a pattern of poor operation and maintenance practices after investigating the recent Texas City leak and have turned their findings over to the state Attorney General because the findings were "egregious," according to Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot was unavailable.

Legal woes are sadly familiar in Texas City, which houses the third-largest refinery in the U.S. The families of those killed and injured in the 2005 accident reached confidential settlements with BP in 2006 and 2007, the National Law Journal says, adding that Buzbee won a $100.3 million award against BP for 10 workers who became ill after being exposed to toxic fumes. Buzbee, who also has cases pending regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, couldn't be reached for comment. The oil company has denied wrongdoing. A company spokesman also could not be immediately reached.