For Now, Exclusivity Does Not Bar Workers’ Tort Cases Against BP Products Following 2011 Chemical Release at Refinery

A Federal District Court in Texas has refused to grant a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant BP Products North America, Inc. (“BP Products”) in a civil action arising out of an alleged chemical release at the BP refinery in Texas City in November 2011 [Boyd v. BP Prods N. Am. Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1017 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 6, 2015)]. More than 500 plaintiffs claim that they were injured by the release, and they brought a variety of tort claims against BP Products. Plaintiffs have been generally divided into two groups: “workers” at the refinery or at a Dow Chemical plant nearby and “community members” who lived near the plant.

BP sought partial summary judgment on the negligence and strict liability claims of 315 “worker” plaintiffs, contending in relevant part that workers’ compensation insurance claims were the exclusive remedies for the workers plaintiffs alleged injuries.

Denying the motion, the court indicated that at trial, BP Products would have the burden of proving that (1) the employee was covered by workers’ compensation insurance coverage; and (2) the injury suffered was “work-related.” The court added that an injury is “work-related” if it occurred in the scope and course of employment [see Tex. Lab. Code § 401.011(10).

It was with regard to the second element of the defense that BP Products’ motion failed. BP Products had provided the court with no evidence that the worker plaintiffs’ alleged injuries were work-related. A “fact sheet” showing each worker plaintiffs identifying information and information about his or her place of work and job position in November 2011 was insufficient. BP Products’ motion for summary judgment was denied for the moment. The court indicated that it would look favorably on a renewed motion for summary judgment on claims that might be subject to the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation after discovery into the circumstances of the workers’ alleged injuries was complete.

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