2019 Baytown ExxonMobil explosion victim feels only 'some' relief after nearly $30M verdict

Mycah Hatfield Image
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
5 victims awarded nearly $30M for 2019 Baytown ExxonMobil explosion
"What we see is for many, many years Exxon knew there was a problem and chose to ignore it and chose money, profits over safety, and we proved it at trial," one victim's attorney said.

BAYTOWN, Texas (KTRK) -- About three and a half years later, a jury awarded five victims almost $30 million following what has been deemed one of the largest industrial explosions on the Gulf Coast.

On July 31, 2019, a tower exploded at Baytown's ExxonMobil's Olefins chemical plant. ABC13 was there when 66 people were treated for injuries. At the time, officials said the injuries were non-life threatening and none of the injuries required hospitalization.

Benny Agosto Jr. represents 20 plaintiffs against Exxon with varying degrees of injuries.

He said it was determined that a buildup of an industrial byproduct called popcorn polymer caused a line to rupture, which led to the explosion.

"You heard booms and felt the heat," one of the victims, a woman, who chose to remain anonymous for safety purposes said. "I felt the heat, and then I saw the gigantic tower on fire."

The woman was one of the five whose case just reached a verdict in court.

She said she had never run like she did that day.

At the time of the explosion, the woman said she was about 100 yards away from the tower on top of a 50-foot-tall platform inspecting equipment.

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"As we tried to escape, I fell from a ladder," the woman explained. "When I was on the ladder, I thought I was about to burn alive. I thought I was about to burn to death."

Agosto said during the discovery process for trial, they found an internal memo at Exxon from 1995 that he deemed a "smoking gun." In it, he said the presence of popcorn polymer in the tower that would blow up decades later was acknowledged, and the decision was made not to rectify it.

"What we see is for many, many years Exxon knew there was a problem and chose to ignore it and chose money, profits over safety, and we proved it at trial," Agosto said.

The victim said despite the award in the case, she feels only "some" relief because she fears it could happen again.

"The way that they don't seem to want to be accountable, I think this could happen again and again and again," the woman said. "It's all just a matter of getting through another trial or settlement. I feel like they put costs ahead of the people."

In a statement, Exxon Mobil's corporate media relations senior advisor Todd Spitler told ABC13, "We operate to the highest standards to safeguard the health and safety of our workers. We investigated the cause of the incident and have learned from this, and have made improvements to our processes and procedures to prevent recurrence. We are determined to being a valued and respected member of the Baytown community, and we understand that public respect and confidence are earned through performance, open communications and community involvement. We deeply regret any concern, disruption or inconvenience that this incident caused the community. We are sympathetic to the plaintiffs, but intend to appeal."

Agosto believes Exxon will use the monetary figures awarded to the five plaintiffs during the trial to settle with his other clients, although he said they are prepared to go to trial.

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