A federal judge ruled that certain documents related to BP Plc’s criminal plea and indictments of its employees can’t be used as evidence against the company in the Feb. 25 trial over fault for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“The parties are precluded from introducing during the Phase One trial the documents listed,” U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans said yesterday in a four-page order. He declined to rule yet on whether any part of the guilty plea itself would be admissible at the trial.
BP, owner of the Macondo well that exploded in April 2010, claimed the so-called criminal information, which spelled out federal prosecutors’ allegations against the company, as well as the indictments were “hearsay” and couldn’t be used in the civil trial. Barbier agreed to exclude these documents.
In November, BP reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, agreeing to pay $4 billion to resolve all criminal charges stemming from the spill. Federal prosecutors also indicted three BP workers.
The blowout and explosion aboard the rig, the Deepwater Horizon, killed 11 workers and spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident sparked hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP, Vernier, Switzerland-based Transocean, which owned the rig, and Houston-based Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services.
Barbier will conduct a nonjury trial beginning Feb. 25 to determine liability for the incident and whether any of the defendants acted with gross negligence.
In a separate ruling yesterday, Barbier said Halliburton and the plaintiffs’ lawyers can introduce some evidence of “prior alleged improper conduct” by Transocean.
Transocean had urged Barbier to bar evidence that isn’t directly related to its conduct on the Macondo well. Opponents will be able to introduce a series of Transocean e-mails and letters concerning prior well-control incidents on other company rigs, including one that occurred within months of the Macondo blowout, Barbier said.
Steve Herman, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “We believe that there is overwhelming evidence that BP, Transocean and Halliburton were all grossly negligent, and we look forward to introducing that evidence at trial.”
Scott Dean, a spokesman for BP, declined to comment on the ruling. Transocean’s spokesman Lou Colasuonno didn’t immediately return calls and e-mails seeking comment.
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).