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TEXAS CITY, Texas -- Friday marked the two-year anniversary of the fatal blast at BP's Texas City refinery, which killed 15 people and injured more than 100. It was also the deadline for lawsuits to be filed against the company, as the statute of limitations for civil claims ended at 5 p.m., the Galveston County Daily News reported.
To mark the anniversary, BP employees and contractors worldwide observed a two-minute moment of silence at 1:20 p.m., the time that the first explosion occurred. In addition, the company's flag was lowered to half-staff.
With the deadline, people affected by the company's Texas City refinery blast in 2005 came out of the woodwork to sue the company for damages. Galveston County District Clerk Latonia Wilson estimated that 600 claims against BP were filed in the past two weeks. Already, more than 200 injury- and death-related suits have been settled out of court, according to court records cited by the Daily News.
However, investigations into the March 23, 2005 explosion estimated that the number of injured or killed as a result of the blast was around 170 to 220, the report stated.
"Once you've got BP on the ropes, these type of claims come along," Gerald Treece, associate dean at the South Texas College of Law, told the newspaper. "They are worth something, and the lawyers who are advertising these cases know it. They are trying to do a big jumbo taco -- take all of them together and settle them."
Treece added that he wasn't surprised more people sought to sue BP, even if they were not actually working at or near the unit where the explosions occurred.
Local law firms, such as the Alexander law firm in Houston and Beaumont-based Brent Coon and Associates, have put efforts into recruiting potential clients, the report stated. The Alexander firm ran newspaper and radio ads; Brent Coon and Associates ran cable TV ads for the past two months.
Meanwhile, BP wants to stay away from the courtroom.
"As we have said we would do, we are working diligently to resolve the claims of people who were injured or who lost loved ones as a result of the tragedy in Texas City," said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell.
However, that may not be possible, as a federal investigation into the blasts could result in criminal charges filed against BP. In addition, Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said that his office would file its own criminal investigation after the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released its final report, which it did last week. To read CSNews Online's article on that report, click here.
The presiding judge in BP cases, Susan Criss, is preparing for more than 100 cases that have yet to be settled. Last week, she told the newspaper that she was preparing her court calendar through 2008 for BP explosion-related cases.