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Six plaintiffs settle before end of BP blast trial

July 11, 2008
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The Associated Press is reporting that six cases have been settled out of court over the deadly explosion at a BP PLC refinery in Southeast Texas, leaving four plaintiffs in the civil trial against the oil company.

With testimony winding down in the trial, six men and four of their wives reached deals overnight, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said.

The plaintiffs rested their case as the jury trial entered its eighth week. BP will present its defense for the first time since the 2005 blast that killed 15 and injured scores more at the Texas City refinery located about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

Lawyers recently told state District Judge Susan Criss they had reached deals on the claims of six plaintiffs. The remaining plaintiffs are Luis Garcia, 26; Esteban Huerta, 57; Charles Pinder, 50; and Olivia Palton, 42.

All the plaintiffs have continued settlement talks throughout the trial. If the remaining plaintiffs do not settle out of court, the case could be the first to produce a verdict related to the blast. Last year, the only other two cases to be presented to a jury ended with settlements before plaintiffs finished presenting evidence.

The amounts of the latest settlements were not disclosed. There are 19 pending claims out of 4,000 filed since the explosion, according to David Salyer, BP''s main lawyer handling settlements.

Settlements are paid from a $2.1 billion fund BP earmarked to resolve blast-related litigation.

Brent Coon, a Beaumont attorney who represented the six who settled as well as Garcia and Huerta, did not immediately return a phone call from the Associated Press. Houston attorney Lance Lubel represents Pinder and Palton.

BP''s lawyers expect to finish presenting evidence this week.

The blast occurred after a piece of equipment called a blowdown drum overfilled with highly flammable liquid hydrocarbons.

The excess liquid and vapor hydrocarbons then were vented from the drum and ignited at the startup of the isomerization unit -- a device that boosts the octane in gasoline. Alarms and gauges that were supposed to warn of the overfilled equipment did not work properly.
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