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BP oil spill trial postponed as settlement talks continue

February 26, 2012|By Richard Fausset
  • Fire rages on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in an April 22, 2010, photo.
Fire rages on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in an April 22, 2010, photo. (Environmental Protection…)

Reporting from Atlanta — The massive civil lawsuit stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, originally scheduled to go to trial Monday in New Orleans, has been postponed for one week to give oil giant BP and lawyers for more than 120,000 plaintiffs time to continue settlement talks.

The postponement of the start of the trial to March 5 was announced in a joint statement Sunday from BP, which was in charge of the drilling project, and the group of plaintiffs' attorneys known as the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, or PSC.

"BP and the PSC are working to reach agreement to fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill," the statement read. It added: "There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement. A further announcement will be made as appropriate."

That settlement talks were ongoing was no surprise. BP Chief Executive Robert Dudley said earlier this month that the company would like to settle "if we can do so on fair and reasonable terms."

Legal experts say there is tremendous pressure for BP to settle, not only with private plaintiffs -- including fishermen, restaurateurs and condominium owners -- but also with the federal government, which, as part of the multi-faceted lawsuit, is seeking penalties under the Clean Water Act that could reach more than $17 billion if the judge in the non-jury trial decides that BP acted with gross negligence in failing to properly prepare for and respond to a spill.

BP has already paid $6.5 billion to thousands of spill victims through a special compensation fund established shortly after the offshore spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which, at 4.9 million barrels, was the largest in U.S. history.

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