Judge approves Gulf oil spill medical benefits settlement

A federal judge Friday approved the medical benefits portion of a multibillion dollar class action settlement between BP and thousands of Gulf Coast residents claiming damages from the  2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans issued a more than 100-page ruling approving the settlement and overruling objections to it.

Last month, Barbier approved the portion of the settlement that dealt with economic and property damages.

He said the overall deal is fair.

BP has estimated that it will pay out $7.8 billion to thousands of claimants for economic, property and health claims — although the agreement BP reached with lawyers for plaintiffs last year does not have a cap on damages.

BP said in a statement that it was pleased by Friday’s ruling. As to the overall settlement with plaintiffs, it said it believes the pact is “good for the people, businesses and communities of the Gulf.”

Eleven workers were killed when an undersea well owned by BP blew out on April 20, 2010, and caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off Louisiana. The resulting oil spill was the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

BP has already spent or committed tens of billions of dollars on cleanup costs and compensating victims. It is set to plead guilty Jan. 29 to criminal charges, including manslaughter and obstruction of Congress. BP has agreed to pay a $4 billion criminal penalty. Victims’ kin have opposed the pact. If a judge rejects it, BP can withdraw its plea and go to trial.

Still unresolved are expected civil fines and penalties from the federal government, which could add billions more to BP’s tab.