HOUSTON (CN) - A Texas judge erred in enforcing settlements that let BP avoid refinery pollution allegations, a state appeals court ruled.
Reginald Warren and seven other plaintiffs sued
BP in Galveston County Court in 2009, claiming they were injured from inhaling hydrogen sulfide and other pollutants that BP released from its Texas City plant.
BP completed its sale of the refinery to Marathon Petroleum Corporation on Feb. 1, 2013, for an estimated $2.4 billion, the London-based company announced on its website.
The sale marked the end of a checkered history for BP at the refinery where a 2005 explosion killed 15 workers and resulted in BP paying tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements.
In the years leading up to the sale BP continued to struggle with safety issues at the plant, as four workers died there from 2006 to 2008.
Warren's lawsuit stemmed from an Oct. 20, 2007, release of toxins from the refinery.
Galveston County Judge John Ellisor ordered Warren and two co-plaintiffs to mediate the dispute with BP, but they agreed to settle before the December 2011 mediation.
BP's counsel sent Warren's attorney a settlement agreement stating that with their signatures Warren and company would be releasing all claims they had against BP as of the settlement date.
But Warren's counsel immediately notified BP he could not sign the document as worded because his clients had other claims against the oil company arising from an April 2010 benzene discharge and a dimethyl-disulfide release from mid-November to Nov. 27, 2011.
The parties reached an impasse when Warren refused to sign a settlement releasing all claims against BP as of Nov. 30, 2011. Warren wanted the date moved back to Nov. 1 so his claims from the dimethyl-disulfide release could survive.
Ellisor ultimately granted BP's motion to enforce the settlement agreement, prompting an appeal by Warren and his co-plaintiffs.
The Texas 14th Court of Appeals in Houston disagreed with Ellisor and remanded the case Thursday.
"We conclude there is insufficient evidence to support the trial court's judgment enforcing the settlement agreements," Judge John Donovan wrote for a three-judge panel.
"To the extent that the trial court rendered judgment on the parties' agreements after becoming aware that Warren no longer consented to the agreement, such decision is in error," the 10-page order states.