A Houston jury has awarded a $117 million judgment to the family of a worker killed in a June 1999 explosion at Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP's K-Resin plant in Pasadena, Texas. But the award is likely to be reduced to less than $15 million because of Texas law.
The verdict against Phillips Petroleum Co. for $110 million in punitive damages and $7.85 million in damages was handed down by a Harris County jury Dec. 18 to the family of Juan Martinez Jr.
The June 23, 1999, blast killed Martinez and his uncle, Jose Rangel, and injured four other workers. An investigation found the incident was caused by excessive pressure in a reactor. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Phillips $204,000 for 13 alleged safety and health violations discovered in its follow-up investigation.
Nine months later, another blast at the same plant killed one and injured 74. The plant has been closed since the second explosion. No restart date has been announced.
Bartlesville, Okla.-based Phillips is appealing the jury's decision.
"Our sympathy goes out to the Martinez family for their loss, and we agree that the family deserves to be compensated at a reasonable level," Phillips officials said in a news release. "However, we believe this verdict is excessive and in error. ... We are confident the appellate court will agree with our position."
Phillips spokesman Rich Johnson said the award could be reduced because the jury found Phillips did not intentionally cause Martinez's death. Texas tort law reform could cut the $110 million in punitive damages to $3.2 million, according to a Phillips lawyer.
John Eddie Williams, a Houston lawyer representing Martinez's widow, had sought $440 million in damages. Williams could not be reached for comment.
The styrene butadiene plant now is operated by Chevron Phillips, a joint venture that took ownership of all the chemical assets of Phillips and Chevron Corp. on July 1.
"In the wake of major incidents in June 1999 and March 2000, everyone acknowledges that the safety record of the K-Resin plant needs to be improved," Chevron Phillips officials said in a news release. "Serious accidents and fatalities are unacceptable to Chevron Phillips."