BP Gulf Spill Judge Orders Jan. 14 Trial on U.S. Claims
The judge presiding over the BP Plc litigation tied to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill set a Jan. 14 trial date to determine fault for the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and resulting undersea leak.
The initial trial date, set for March this year in New Orleans, was postponed when BP and lawyers for private parties reached a $7.8 billion partial settlement of claims. BP and the plaintiffs’ lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the lawsuits, to postpone any trial on liability until after a Nov. 8 fairness hearing on the settlement.
“Phase 1 of the limitation and liability trial shall be re-set for Jan. 14, 2013,” Barbier said in a one-page order yesterday. “The court will issue a revised trial plan.”
Barbier set the new trial date after a closed-door meeting yesterday with lawyers from BP, other companies involved and those suing over the spill.
BP in March agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and spill and cleanup-related injuries. The settlement establishes two classes, one for economic loss and the other for injuries related to the spill or the cleanup.
Kurt Mix, a former BP Plc (BP/) engineer, pleaded not guilty yesterday in federal court in New Orleans to charges he intentionally destroyed evidence requested by the U.S. about the size of the spill.
The U.S. said Mix, who worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, deleted text messages between him and a supervisor. Mix was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, in the first criminal case arising from the incident.
The Justice Department said last week it was continuing the probe. The charges against Mix are likely to be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said May 2 in a press conference.
Mix brought the deletions to the attention of the government, Joan McPhee, his attorney, told the judge.
“Mr. Mix saved thousands of e-mails and hundreds of text messages,” McPhee said. The information saved includes flow rate data, work on the efforts to contain the spill, and his personal log notes, she said.
The proposed settlement of the private lawsuits, reached March 2, days before a scheduled trial on liability for the 2010 spill, doesn’t cover federal government claims and those of Gulf Coast states Louisiana and Alabama.
It also excludes claims of financial institutions, casinos, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling prompted by the spill.
Barbier granted preliminary approval of the settlement on May 2.
The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP; Transocean Ltd. (RIG), the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig; and Halliburton Co. (HAL), which provided cementing services.
The U.S. government also sued BP, Transocean and BP’s partners in the well, Mitsui & Co. (8031)’s MOEX Offshore 2007 and The Woodlands, Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC), alleging violations of federal pollution laws. Louisiana and Alabama sued as well. MOEX has settled the federal pollution claims.
The plaintiffs’ and government claims against BP’s contractors on the doomed Macondo well remain after the settlement reached in March.
A trial would cover these lawsuits, federal and state government pollution claims against BP, and cross-claims among BP and its partner companies involved in the Macondo site and rig.
Under the settlement, BP has assigned to the plaintiffs the company’s right to seek cleanup costs and the value of the lost oil from Transocean and Halliburton.
The first trial, a nonjury phase before Barbier, would focus on fault for the incident and the issue of gross negligence.
The case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). The criminal case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-0017, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
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