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BP plant explosion suit settled for $32 million

By Katy Byron
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GALVESTON, Texas (CNN) -- The daughter of two plant workers who died in the BP Texas City refinery explosion of 2005 will settle her lawsuit against the oil giant for an undisclosed amount and $32 million in donations to health care, training, and safety education, the plaintiff and her lawyer announced Thursday.

Eva Rowe's parents, Linda and James Rowe, were among the 15 people who died in the March 23, 2005, oil plant explosion and fire.

Until Thursday's announcement, Rowe's suit was the only fatality case from the tragedy that was going to court. Proceedings in the case began earlier this week in a Galveston courtroom and opening statements were to begin Monday.

Rowe's lawsuit originally sought damages of $1.2 billion. Neither party would disclose the monetary terms of the settlement beyond the $32 million donated by BP to various causes chosen by Rowe.

BP spokeswoman Sarah Howell called the deaths of the Rowes a "tragic loss" and added that the company is "very happy that we settled."

BP has accepted full responsibility for the disaster at its plant and has settled more than 1,000 lawsuits related to claims made by those directly injured on the site, by family members of those who died and by people who suffered shock. More than $1.6 billion was set aside by BP to resolve with those claims, a BP spokesman told CNN.

Rowe said she decided to settle because BP met her demands in that they would release documents relevant to the Texas City disaster and organizations and schools in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee that focus on work training, health-care aid and safety education will receive the bulk of the settlement.

As part of the settlement, $1 million will be donated to the cancer center at the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee in memory of Rowe's parents, said Brent Coon the lawyer representing Rowe.

Texas A&M University and the University of Texas will receive $12.5 million each in the names of the 15 workers who died during the oil plant fire, while the College of the Mainland's safety and training program will receive $5 million in the names of the deceased, Coon told reporters during a news conference.

The high school in Hornbeck, Louisiana, where Linda Rowe was a teacher's aid will receive a $1 million donation from BP in the form of a scholarship fund in her honor, Rowe said.

Rowe told reporters that her parents had "the perfect story -- 27 years of marriage, two kids, grandkids. They died together, and their death is going to change a lot of things and help a lot of people."

In addition, for each outside donation up to $2 million made to these programs, BP will match the donation until the total settlement for the suit reaches $38 million. Rowe and Coon's firm were the first to donate, giving $200,000, which BP has matched, Coon said.

When reporters asked Rowe if she could ever forgive BP for what happened to her parents, she replied: "I'll probably never say BP is a good company. They killed my parents to save money."

Last month the Chemical Safety Board released preliminary findings of its investigation of the Texas City blast, saying that internal BP documents reveal the oil corporation's knowledge of "significant safety problems at the Texas City refinery" months or years before the explosion.

The report says that the company was warned of potentially hazardous conditions at the plant, and while it improved working conditions, "unsafe and antiquated equipment designs were left in place, and unacceptable deficiencies in preventative maintenance were tolerated," safety board Chairman Carolyn Merritt said.

Responding to the report, a BP spokesman said, "We agree with the CSB in that we, too, believe that the March 23, 2005, explosion was a preventable tragedy. However, we do not understand the basis of some of the comments made by the CSB board members."

The report reveals that between 1994 and 2005 there were eight incidents at the Texas City refinery that signaled grave problems. Two of those incidents involved fires, the report says.

Don Holmstrom, the safety board's investigator leading the inquiry, said BP's efforts to improve safety at the plant in 2004 "focused largely on improving personnel safety -- such as slips, trips and falls -- rather than management systems, equipment design, and preventative maintenance programs to help prevent the growing risk of major process accidents."

Federal investigators have already fined the company $21 million for more than 300 safety violations at the plant.

Coon told reporters that his firm will be representing another 75 to 100 claims against BP in February for personal injury-related cases of both injured workers at the Texas City plant on the day of the explosion and residents who lived nearby who were impacted by the accident that "blew out windows a quarter of a mile away."

The Texas City refinery explosion was the worst industrial accident in the United States in more than a decade.

CNN's Christopher Browne contributed to this report



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