The civil trial over the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill will begin on Jan. 14, 2013, two months after a scheduled hearing on final approval of a settlement agreement between BP and private claimants, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled today. The first phase of the trial will focus on issues leading up to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the start of the oil spill.
Discovery will continue in the meantime for the second phase of the trial, Barbier ruled, which will deal with the efforts to stem the flow of oil from the well between April 22, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon sank, and Sept. 19, 2010, when the well was capped. The second phase of the trial has not been scheduled.
In his order, Barbier said he would issue a revised plan for the trial. The changes are required because the preliminary settlement between BP and private parties, which he approved on Wednesday, removed some of the contested issues from the various lawsuits against BP and other responsible parties that have been combined in the trial.
Barbier did not say when the revised plan would be issued.
Local, state and federal government claims of as much as $18 billion, including fines for violation of the federal Clean Water Act, represent the largest remaining civil items to be determined by the trial. However, a variety of private parties that were not included in the BP settlement also are expected to press their claims in the trial.
BP has estimated that the settlement represents an estimated $7.8 billion in payments to private claimants. Tthe company already has paid out $7 billion to claimants over the past two years.
In a separate order, Barbier changed the medical claims part of the settlement to make it clear that no money from medical claims would be held back to pay attorneys' fees. A similar requirement already was included in the economic claims part of the settlement.
(By Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune / Nola, 03/05/2012)