Families of victims of Texas City oil refinery explosion reject $50m deal negotiated by BP

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The Independent Online

BP should pay a fine of at least $2bn (1bn) and be forced to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the overhaul of its Texas City oil refinery, according to lawyers representing victims of a fatal explosion at the site.

In a filing yesterday to a federal court in Texas, plaintiffs' attorneys, led by David Perry, objected to the plea deal that BP struck with the US government in October, under which it agreed to pay $50m (25.2m) to the victims of the 2005 disaster which killed 15 workers and injured at least 170 others. The judge overseeing the case, Lee Rosenthal, must either sign off on the deal, which would also place BP on probation for three years, or throw it out.

In the filing, Mr Perry argued that the agreement "imposes no real punishment, but grants immunity for the parent company whose conduct the government has found to have been the 'root cause' of the disaster." He added that BP should pay at least $1bn to the victims of the explosion, one of America's worst industrial disasters. Under federal law, companies found guilty of a corporate felony are liable for a fine equal to the profit gleaned from the wrongdoing, a sum of at least $1bn, according to Mr Perry. The maximum fine is double the profit, which is what he and fellow plaintiffs' lawyers Mark Lanier and Brent Coon hope hope to win.

"Given the many deaths and injuries that were caused, and the fact the misconduct was going on for a long time, involving high-level personnel, we think they should pay the maximum fine," Mr Perry said.

The government and BP have argued that the $50m was the maximum allowable under a formula laid out by the Clean Air Act.

BP said that the plea agreement was fair and that it has already accepted responsibility for the tragedy. "We have apologised for the harm caused by our mistakes and we will now, as part of this agreement, plead guilty to felony and pay the largest criminal fine ever under the Clean Air Act, a fine that is 100 times the statutory maximum."

Mr Perry said yesterday that the Clean Air Act "does not have any such formula. That's just not correct".

He added: "We are right on the facts and right on the law, so we think we will win."