Texas Judge Imposes Stay on St. Croix Toxic Dust Trial

A federal bankruptcy judge in Texas ruled on Friday that a long-awaited toxic dust trial against Hess Oil cannot proceed as scheduled for May 2. Hess and its successor company, HOVIC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late April.

Although hundreds of former Hess Oil workers on St. Croix have settled cases out of court for asbestos exposure, the first trial against the oil giant has now been put on hold. (File photo)

The lawyer representing a veteran St. Croix oil refinery worker who is the plaintiff in the case says Friday’s ruling by United States Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur represents the latest instance where Virgin Islanders harmed by toxic dust have gotten “the short end of the stick.”

Attorney Russell Pate, representing plaintiff Kadar Mohansingh, said Isgur’s ruling came one day after lawyers representing Hess Oil/HOVIC filed a Notice of Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy and Emergency Motion for Continuance. Jury selection for Mohansingh’s trial took place in St. Croix Superior Court and was completed April 19.

“Everything’s changed. They just had a hearing in Houston. The judge in Texas essentially canceled Judge (Alphonso) Andrew’s trial,” Pate said. Had the trial started as scheduled, it would have been the first trial against the former St. Croix refinery owners and operators since workers began suing over ailments they sustained while exposed to toxic dust on the job.

Hundreds of workers had their cases settled out of court. “Up to 2018, Hess has settled over 1,000 asbestosis lung scarring cases and asbestos cancer lawsuits filed by the former St. Croix workers and their spouses,” Pate said.

The defendants in the Mohansingh case asked the bankruptcy court of Texas to impose a stay on proceeding through May 4.