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    BP Settles Four Blast Cases

    After three weeks of trial, the company completed the first wave of lawsuits to reach trial.

    HOUSTON -- Major oil company BP Plc reached a settlement earlier this week on four lawsuits concerning the deadly 2005 explosion at the company's Texas City, Texas, refinery, which killed 15 people, Reuters reported, citing the company and plaintiffs’ attorney.

    The lawsuits -- which were the first stemming from the explosion to go to trial -- were settled after three weeks of trial in Galveston, Texas, and after weeks of negotiation, the plaintiffs’ attorney Brent Coon told Reuters.

    "We've been working very hard to ensure that people don't have to go to court," BP spokesman Neil Chapman told Reuters.

    Since the March 23, 2005, blast, the company settled 1,600 claims, including those filed by families implicated by the blast. An additional 1,200 claims are pending, according to Chapman.

    BP set aside $1.6 billion to resolve lawsuits from the explosion, Reuters reported.

    Both attorneys in the case declined to disclose details of the settlements, citing confidentiality agreements.

    The cases were filed by survivors of the explosion, claiming emotional distress, loss of hearing, back injuries and other illnesses.

    In addition, the plaintiffs' attorney, Coon, told Reuters in a phone interview the replacement of the company's chief executive -- former head John Browne resigned earlier this year, and was replaced by Anthony Hayward -- has made it more difficult to reach settlements with BP.

    "Actually, my personal opinion with Browne being out and Hayward being in, is they're digging their heels in a bit," Coon said. "I was surprised by this."

    However, Chapman told Reuters the company has accepted responsibility for the explosion.

    "Since the explosion we've been working very hard to reach settlements with those who lost their loved ones and were injured," he said. "We're pleased to reach the settlements."

    Coon added that he plans to argue before the Texas Supreme Court next month for a subpoena requiring Browne to testify in the remaining cases, as Coon believes Browne was closely involved in management oversight of the Texas City refinery, the report stated.

    "Lord Browne does not have unique knowledge of events at Texas City," company attorney Chapman told Reuters.

    According to Texas law, a chief executive can only be called to testify if he or she is believed to possess knowledge beyond that of subordinate executives, the report stated.

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