Spill trial delayed a week

NEW ORLEANS — The massive civil trial over the Deepwater Horizon was delayed by one week as plaintiffs lawyers and BP continue negotiations on a settlement.

The federal trial was slated to kick off Monday morning until the judge overseeing the case on Sunday ordered the postponement. BP and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, which represents businesses and individuals, issued a joint statement.

“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 said. “There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement.”

BP, widely viewed as the main defendant at the trial where billions of dollars are at stake, faces claims by the U.S. government, several states and the individual plaintiffs.

BP did not say if was in talks with Justice Department, which had no comment.

”The judge must believe there is a strong possibility of a settlement in order to postpone the trial for a week,” Blaine LeCesne, a tort law professor at Loyola University who has closely followed the case, said Sunday. “It could either include a global settlement or a partial settlement, but would probably include the government at this point. There would be little reason for BP to continue with a trial that would still include all that potentially damning evidence against them.”

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans is overseeing the litigation in a non-jury trial in a case that consolidates scores of legal claims. BP owned the well, which blew out and spewed an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico; Halliburton cemented it; and Transocean owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded. Eleven workers died.

BP CEO Bob Dudley has said the company would welcome a settlement it considered fair. Some companies already have reached partial or complete settlements.
Weatherford International, which provided the float collar used in the final cementing of the well, settled with BP last year in exchange for protection against any compensatory claims, such as harm to the local economy. Barbier then dismissed its case as to any remaining claims. 

MOEX Offshore 2007, a unit of Japan’s Mitsui that owned a 10 percent share in the Macondo well, settled with BP and with federal and state governments.

Cameron and Anadarko Petroleum settled with BP for compensatory claims, but still could be liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water and Oil Pollution acts.
Cameron built the blowout preventer that sat on top of the Macondo wellhead and failed as the last line of defense against loss of well control. Anadarko owned a 25 percent share of the well.

BP also has cross-complaints pending with the two other firms most prominently associated with work on the Macondo well — Halliburton and Transocean.
Transocean, which is also being sued by the federal government over possible Clean Water Act violations, said Sunday that a possible settlement between BP and plaintiffs does not change its strategy or preparations for an upcoming trial.

Transocean and Halliburton argue that BP should be held solely responsible, alleging that BP made all the key decisions for the well. They further contend that their contracts indemnified them from liability for an accident, even in the case of gross negligence.

The court will apportion liability for the accident and may include rulings on whether it resulted from negligence or gross negligence — an important distinction in determining parties’ financial exposure.

“The difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is a matter of degree,” said David Uhlmann, who headed the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section from 2000 to 2007 and is now a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “Both involve the failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances but gross negligence involves a substantial deviation from the duty of reasonable care.”
Under the Clean Water Act, fines can be much higher with a finding of gross negligence. Further complicating the matter is that a ruling on degree of negligence could differ among parties.

BP’s defense in the trial is that its contractors should share the blame.

“The record developed in this proceeding leads directly to the conclusion that no single action, person or party was the sole cause of the blowout,” said Mike Brock, trial counsel for BP. “BP did not engage in any gross negligence or willful misconduct.”

Whether Barbier makes a finding of gross negligence may depend on how the many events leading to the accident are viewed.
“It will be difficult for the government to prove that any single act involved gross negligence,” Uhlmann said. “But it would be much easier if the judge allows the government to aggregate acts of negligence to prove gross negligence.”

The federal government also is conducting a criminal investigation, which is not a part of the consolidated civil case.

The Macondo well blew out as workers were completing the process of abandoning it for production later. Various investigations have concluded that the abandonment process went forward despite a series of missed or disregarded warning signs of deficiencies in the well’s cement seals and other components.
Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov sees more advantage in BP’s position.

“BP’s objective is not to place exclusive blame on anyone else,” he said, “but to point out that there are multiple parties in the events that led up to Macondo and that there were multiple causes and multiple responsible parties.”

emily.pickrell@chron.com

The start of the massive Deepwater Horizon spill trial has been delayed by a week to allow BP and a committee representing various plaintiffs that have sued BP more time to reach a settlement.

The trial was slated to start Monday morning in New Orleans. The delay was announced by BP and the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee in a joint statement.

“This adjournment is intended to allow BP and the PSC more time to continue settlement discussions and attempt to reach an agreement,” the statement says. “BP and the PSC are working to reach agreement to fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill. There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement. A further announcement will be made as appropriate.”

The committee represents businesses and individuals that have sued BP and other parties. The federal goverment and states also have claims against BP as part of this civil case.

”The judge must believe there is a strong possibility of a settlement in order to postpone the trial for a week,” said Blaine LeCesne, a tort law professor at Loyola University who has closely followed the case, said Sunday afternoon. “It could either include a global settlement or a partial settlement, but would probably include the government at this point. There would be little reason for BP to continue with a trial that would still include all that potentially damning evidence against them.”

Unless the litigation settles, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans will to sort out blame for the disaster in a non-jury trial on the first phase of a massive case that consolidates scores of legal claims by governments, corporations and individuals. Because the trial will serve as a clearinghouse for the many different cases, multiple plaintiffs and defendants would offer testimony and legal arguments.

Before the delay, the Plaintiff Steering Committee, was to present its case first — allocated 75 minutes of opening arguments to launch one of the largest environmental liability cases in U.S. history. Overall, Barbier has scheduled almost seven hours of opening statements.

The focus of the trial, should it happen, would be on BP, widely viewed as the main defendant as it faces lawsuits by the U.S. government, several state governments and the individual plaintiffs. It also has cross-complaints with the two other firms most prominently associated with work on the Macondo well — Halliburton and Transocean.

BP owned the well, which blew out and spewed an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico; Halliburton cemented it; and Transocean owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded and killed 11 workers.

A Transocean spokesman said Sunday: “Any settlement between BP and the plaintiffs will not change the facts of the case. Transocean remains prepared for trial.”

BP CEO Bob Dudley has said the company would welcome a settlement it considered fair, and there’s been wide speculation that it may reach a deal, at least with the federal government, sometime before or even during the trial.

Some companies already have reached partial or complete settlements.

Weatherford International, which provided the float collar used in the final cementing of the well, settled with BP last year in exchange for protection against any compensatory claims, such as harm to the local economy. Barbier then dismissed its case as to any remaining claims.

MOEX Offshore 2007, a unit of Japan’s Mitsui that owned a 10 percent share in the Macondo well, settled with BP and with federal and state governments.

Cameron and Anadarko Petroleum settled with BP for compensatory claims, but still could be liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water and Oil Pollution acts.

Cameron built the blowout preventer that sat on top of the Macondo wellhead and failed as the last line of defense against loss of well control.

Anadarko owned a 25 percent share of the well.

1 Comment

  1. I write a sports blog, but I have to weigh in here. Stop calling this the Deepwater Horizon Spill. Call it what it is; The British Petroleum Gulf Spill. BP wants desperately to disassociate it’s name from this disaster. Pres. Obama should have told BP to go home, don’t come back, and got the US Navy down there to fix the problem. “Good Morning America, How are ya? Not so good…not so good.

    StiffLeftJab.com

    #1