Global Processing

Jury Sides With BP in Pollution Lawsuit

January 8, 2008
According to the Associated Press, jurors recently sided with oil giant BP Corp. North America Inc. in a pollution lawsuit filed by the city of Neodesha seeking to recover the costs of cleanup and damage caused by an oil refinery.

Jurors hearing the case in Erie reached their decision after less than three days of deliberation in one of the longest jury trials ever held in Kansas. The trial began in late August, with jurors hearing from 46 witnesses during 69 days of testimony. Deliberations resumed Monday after a two-week break for the holidays.

Rochelle Chronister, a resident of the small southeast Kansas town and former state legislator who attended the verdict announcement and most of the trial, said jurors did not give a reason for the verdict, but their attorneys were trying to interview jurors and see what happened.

Juror Ann Atchison told the Independence Daily Reporter that jurors all were in agreement.

Neodesha demanded more than $423 million in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the 2,700 residents of the town. The massive lawsuit alleged liability for spills, breach of contract and fraud. They lost on all counts.

BP spokeswoman Valerie Corr said that the company was pleased with the verdict and intended to continue the cleanup at Neodesha. The company said in a statement that the verdict reflected the findings of an independent government study that confirmed the contamination posed no apparent health hazard.

The contamination covers almost 70 percent of the town, including underneath City Hall, hundreds of homes and the community''s schools. Experts found groundwater pollution under 350 acres after the city spent $1 million to hire its own experts and drill test wells.

In addition to the city of Neodesha, plaintiffs included the local school district, Neodesha Plastics Inc., Fiberglass Engineering, and property owners Anna Harshman and Wade Jones, who are acting as class representatives.

Named as defendants were BP Corp. North America Inc., formerly known as Amoco Corp.; BP America Inc.; BP Products North America Inc.; Atlantic Richfield Co.; and BP America Production Co.

The refinery operated from 1897 until it was dismantled in 1970 and the property was donated to the city.

The lawsuit contends the operation of the oil refinery and associated laboratories and storage facilities generated a variety of poisonous wastes, including benzene, toluene, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury.

Although some of the contaminants are known to cause cancer and other diseases, the lawsuit was not a personal injury case but instead sought property damages.