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The Times: BP offered $10 million donation to settle claim

By Carl Mortished, International Business Editor
 
BP has been accused of making an unethical inducement to settle a personal injury lawsuit, after the oil group’s attorney offered to make a $10 million (£5.2 million) donation to a church ministry supported by a lawyer acting for victims of the Texas City refinery fire.

Affidavits filed at a court in Galveston, Texas, state that Greg Alexander, a lawyer representing two workers injured in the refinery explosion in March last year, was offered the sum by Kenneth Tekell, BP’s lawyer. The money was to be payable to a ministry of Mr Alexander’s choice and in his name, upon settlement of the victims’ compensation claims.  

Mr Alexander rejected the offer, and the injured workers, Calvin Bolds and Kenneth Grant, have filed a motion with the court asking that it prevent BP from offering further inducements to the plaintiff’s lawyers.

The motion was filed by The Buzbee Law Firm, also acting for the victims, and alleges that the donation was an attempt “to cloud [Mr Alexander’s] judgement and convince him to setttle these cases contrary to the wishes of Grant and Bolds”. It asks the court to consider additional monetary sanctions against BP for the alleged attempt to influence the victim’s lawyer and to create a conflict of interest, contrary to rules that require that an attorney be loyal to his client.

“BP has spent a lot of money in the community in an attempt to create favourable press about itself . . . Regardless of how much money it has, however, BP cannot buy counsel for the plaintiffs,” the court document states.

According to the victims’ lawyer, the offer to make a donation originated from BP’s in-house attorney in Chicago.

A spokesman for BP in London denied impropriety. He said: “We have not done anything unethical in negotiating any of these claims. Our aim was to ensure that these cases are settled quickly.” BP does not dispute that it made the offer of a donation.

The attempted donation may also have been an effort to create a rift between the two law firms acting for the claimants. The court documents state that the BP lawyer was aware of Mr Alexander’s passionate support of certain church ministries and that Mr Alexander had referred the conduct of his clients’ claim to The Buzbee Law Firm. The court document indicates that The Buzbee Law Firm owns 60 per cent of “the fee interest” in the Grant and Bolds case.

The claim of unethical conduct is likely to increase pressure on BP, after criticisms over corroded oil pipelines in Alaska and alleged price-fixing by BP traders in the US propane market.

BP said it had settled most of the Texas City claims, for which it has set aside $1 billion. Fifteen workers died in the refinery fire.
 

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