Jury awards $387.4 million to Citgo to cover costs in 2001 fire at Illinois oil refinery

Tuesday, November 7th 2006, 6:24 am
By: News On 6

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ A jury awarded $387.4 million to Citgo Petroleum Corp. in a civil lawsuit stemming from a 2001 fire at a suburban Chicago refinery.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they plan to appeal Monday's verdict.

The fire occurred when a pipe fitting burst in a crude oil processing unit at a Citgo refinery in Romeoville. Citgo filed the lawsuit against a Barberton, Ohio-based parts manufacturer in 2003 to recover repair costs and lost profits.

In awarding the damages Monday, a Cook County jury determined that the Babcock & Wilcox Co. was 45 percent responsible for the accident. Jurors also ruled that Unocal Corp., the previous owner of the refinery, was 40 percent responsible for the fire.

Citgo was assigned 15 percent of the blame.

Babcock & Wilcox will ``have to pick up the whole ticket'' because it was assigned 25 percent or more of the blame, said Citgo attorney Randy Donato.

``We appreciate that the judicial system ruled in our favor in this important case,'' said Jeff Rutter, a spokesman for Houston-based Citgo, which is a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-run oil company.

Babcock & Wilcox attorney John Donley said the company will appeal the verdict. He said that in 1982 the company told Unocal the fitting was defective and needed to be replaced.

Firefighters from more than 15 communities helped put out the Aug. 14, 2001, blaze, which burned for several hours. The unit where the fire occurred processed 165,000 barrels per day at the time, Citgo has said.

An investigation showed the pipe fitting, which was manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox, was made of the wrong kind of metal.

When Unocal sold the refinery to Citgo in 1997, the sales contract stipulated that Citgo accepted all responsibility for the plant, Donley said.