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Jury Finds Gross Negligence in OxyChem Case, But Awards Small Amounts

June 22, 1995

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) _ A jury ruled that Occidental Chemical Corp. was grossly negligent in a 1992 Texas chemical leak, but awarded only limited or no damages to any of the plaintiffs.

Jurors in the class-action lawsuit also found that OxyChem acted with malice for allowing butadiene _ a chemical used to make tires and artificial rubber products _ to leak from its Corpus Christi plant and descend into nearby Robstown without warning.

The jury ruled that seven of the 12 named plaintiffs should receive no actual damages. Awards for the five others ranged from $300 to $1,000.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys had asked for up to $100,000 in actual damages for each of their clients, who had claimed the leak in October 1992 caused health problems, including headaches, nausea and eye irritation.

The company said the butadiene leak was too small to cause permanent illnesses in anyone.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys signed up more than 8,600 clients _ or roughly three of every four townspeople _ as clients in the class-action lawsuit.

State District Judge J. Manuel Banales, who presided over the eight-week trial, will decide how the jury’s ruling should be applied to the rest of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers are allowed to ask the same panel to award up to $10 million in punitive damages for each of the 12 representative plaintiffs. The jury will take up punitive damages in separate deliberations.

The jury determined that Occidental Petroleum Corp., its Los Angeles-based parent company, had no liability in the case.

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