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    BP Texas City Refinery Trial Gets Under Way

    Company settles one of the five explosion cases just before proceedings begin.

    GALVESTON, Texas -- A Galveston County jury listened yesterday as attorneys laid out their cases in the trial surrounding the deadly BP Plc Texas City refinery explosion.

    The plaintiffs' attorney, Brent Coon, told jurors that the March 23, 2005, explosion that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others resulted from unsafe working conditions caused by the oil giant's appetite for profits, The Associated Press reported.

    Coon, whose representing four contract workers suing BP for injuries they claim resulted because of the blast, said during opening statements that BP ignored routine maintenance, overworked employees and failed to install safer equipment, the AP said.

    "This case is about knowingly putting people at risk," Coon said. "They cut too many corners unnecessarily to make profits they don't need, putting people at risk unnecessarily. That's wrong. They should be punished for that."

    But attorneys for BP said the company didn't knowingly put workers at risk, and they tried to cast doubt on whether the workers suing were actually injured as a result of the blast.

    Otway Denny, a BP attorney, said while the company takes responsibility for what happened, it has always tried to provide a safe working environment, the AP report said. "There will be no evidence there was a conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of others," Denny said. "There is no evidence we knew a tragedy like this would occur."

    This is the first trial stemming from the explosion at the Texas plant, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston. About 1,350 of the thousands of lawsuits filed since the accident have been settled, according to the AP report. To date, the blast has cost the company at least $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profit.

    The jury of eight women and four men -- chosen Tuesday after three days of jury selection -- was set to hear evidence on five lawsuits, but one filed on behalf of the 6- and 11-year-old sons of Rene Cardona Sr., 26, from Baytown, was settled about 8 p.m. Tuesday, the boys' attorney, Robert Kwok, said. Terms of the settlement were confidential.

    Cardona was a contract worker for engineering and construction company, Contech Control Service. He committed suicide six weeks after the blast. Kwok attributed his suicide to the emotional trauma Cardona experienced because of the accident.

    Originally, seven lawsuits were to be tried, but two were settled before jury selection began. The plaintiffs in the four remaining lawsuits are:

    -- Nara and David Wilson, both 44, of Santa Fe, Texas. The couple, who filed separate suits, worked for mechanical contracting company, Altair Strickland.

    -- Scott Kilbert, 48, of Bellville, an instrumentation supervisor for construction company, JE Merit.

    -- Rolando Bocardo, 41, of Baytown, an instrument fitter for JE Merit.

    Attorneys for the plaintiffs said their clients have suffered a variety of injuries, including back problems, hearing loss and post traumatic stress disorder, the AP reported.

    However, BP attorney Kenneth Tekell told jurors that Kilbert never missed work because of his alleged back injury, and Bocardo had injured his back and neck before the accident He also questioned the back and head injuries claimed by the Wilsons, suggesting they filed suit to finance their own furniture business.

    "I don't believe they are entitled to the millions of dollars I believe they would be asking for," Tekell said Wednesday during BP's opening arguments in the trial.

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