BP spill trial delayed for 1 week

February 27, 2012 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS -- Spill 4.1 million barrels of oil into the ocean, and this is what you get: the lollapalooza, labyrinthine, mega-mother of all lawsuits.

It encompasses 72 million pages of documents, 20,000 exhibits and 303 depositions -- the collective effort of hundreds of lawyers and legal workers.

It involves the Justice Department and about 120,000 plaintiffs: angry fishermen, restaurateurs, state governments and condo owners who say their beach-side property is not worth what it once was.

The trial phase was set to begin today in a New Orleans federal courtroom, but the judge delayed the start for a week Sunday, saying that oil giant BP PLC was making some progress in settlement talks with a committee overseeing scores of lawsuits.

Two people close to the case told The Associated Press that the decision was made Sunday during a conference call between parties in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill case and U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the call.

They said the judge told those on the call that BP and the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee were "making some progress" in their settlement talks. The steering committee is overseeing lawsuits filed by individuals and businesses following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf. The blast killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from the blown-out well, soiling miles of coastline.

However, the judge did not mention the status of settlement talks between other parties, nor did he mention any figures being discussed, according to the people close to the case.

The brief order issued by Judge Barbier on Sunday said only that the delay was granted "for reasons of judicial efficiency and to allow the parties to make further progress in their settlement discussions."

Among other things, the trial that is now set to begin next Monday is meant to determine the penalties that need to be paid by BP and other companies involved in the oil spill. Billions of dollars are at stake.

BP and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee confirmed in a joint news release that the trial had been delayed. It said the oil giant and the PSC were working to reach an agreement that would "fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill."


First Published 2012-02-26 23:17:44

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