The 2007 Steven J. Sharp Award has been presented to attorney Brent Coon and his client Eva Rowe to honor their actions in holding a major oil company accountable for its negligence and wrongdoing and ultimately making America a safer place in which to live and work.
On March 23, 2005, an explosion occurred at the BP plant in Texas City, Texas, after a faulty unit ignited a volatile cloud of explosive vapors. Fifteen workers, including Eva’s parents, James and Linda Rowe, were killed. Hundreds more were injured as a result of BP’s negligence.
When Eva Rowe asked Brent Coon to represent her in her lawsuit against BP, she told him she had two goals—to ensure that the truth was told about the death of her parents and their 13 colleagues, and to ensure that all 15 would always be remembered.
On November 9, 2006, Mr. Coon achieved those goals by announcing he had reached an unprecedented settlement. The settlement included a first-ever agreement to release seven million pages of sealed corporate documents that would have been presented had the case gone to trial. Had Mr. Coon not realized this unprecedented agreement, the documents would have never been released into the public domain and full justice would not have been achieved.
Too frequently, when settlements are reached before a trial, corporate wrongdoers are successful in sealing up documents that expose the facts underlying their responsibility, even when a public safety hazard may result in the death and injuries of others. By forcing BP to release these documents, Mr. Coon and Ms. Rowe not only laid open the evidence of BP’s wrongdoing, but made it possible for others fighting against corporate wrongdoing to do the same.
The settlement was important in other ways as well. It called for at least $30 million in charitable donations to three foundations, a $1 million donation each to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and a $1 million endowment creating a college scholarship foundation for the Hornbeck, Louisiana school district. Linda Rowe taught at Hornbeck High School before working at the BP Texas City plant.
Mr. Coon received no fees from the charitable portion of the settlement. Further, he established a foundation to stimulate public donations for the matching portion of the settlement, with a personal donation of $100,000.