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25 February 2013

Lawyers prepare for battle in BP oil spill showdown

British energy giant BP will today kick-off its civil trial against the US states which were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, for which it could face an unprecedented fine of up to $17.6 billion.

By James Barnes

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident

The trial – to be held in New Orleans – will begin with 400 minutes of opening arguments from 11 parties, including the Justice Department, reports the Washington Post.

Criminal charges

The list of exhibits runs nearly a thousand pages, while lawyers have filed more than 100 depositions and the names of about 80 potential witnesses.
The plaintiffs’ legal team includes 300 lawyers, paralegals and support staffers dedicated to the case, while reports suggests that BP has a similar-sized team of lawyers from four leading US firms.
Although a settlement was mooted over the weekend, the reported $16bn figure was far higher than BP was willing to discuss. In November, BP paid $4.5bn to settle criminal charges relating to the disaster.
The case will be heard by Carl Barbier, himself a former plaintiff lawyer, who will try the case under maritime law and therefore without a jury.

Human tragedy

The case will be ‘unlike any other trial brought under the environmental laws’, according to David Uhlmann, professor of environmental law at the University of Michigan. He said: ‘The Justice Department has never tried an environmental case that involved the human tragedy, economic losses and ecological disaster that occurred during the gulf oil spill.’
BP is set to claim that a series of mistakes by its own employees and those working for the drill rig’s owner, Transocean, as well as oil-field services firm Halliburton led to the disaster. But a flock of private plaintiffs, the Justice Department, state attorneys general and Transocean and Halliburton will all argue that BP is to blame.

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