Alabama seeks BP oil spill liability trial in July

BP 435x292 Alabama seeks BP oil spill liability trial in JulyA trial to determine BP’s share of liability in the 2010 Gulf oil spill has been set for January 14, 2013. The state of Alabama had urged U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to avoid delaying BP’s oil spill liability trial until after a November hearing on the proposed settlement, scheduled for November.

BP and a number of plaintiffs involved in the oil spill litigation filed a proposed settlement agreement on April 18, seeking Judge Barbier’s preliminary approval on it. Judge Barbier presided over the oil spill litigation from federal court in New Orleans.

In the agreement, BP and the other parties asked Judge Barbier to postpone the trial, which will determine BP’s share of liability for the April 2010 oil spill, until after a November 8 fairness hearing and final approval of the accord. Today Judge Barbier agreed to that course of action.

The U.S. Justice Department also called on Judge Barbier to avoid postponing the liability trial, saying the BP’s settlement “should not allow it to impede trial and resolution of the broader public interests represented by the United States and the states.” U.S. attorneys have said the liability trial should be held “no later than summer of 2012.”

In papers filed Tuesday, Alabama argued that state and local Gulf Coast governments should be allowed to prove their case against BP, and that a trial be held this year to determine the degree of liability BP and some of its partners and contractors share for causing the massive oil spill. Alabama Attorney general Luther Strange asked Judge Barbier to set a liability trial date as early as July 16.

“It’s good,” Mr. Strange said after Thursday’s closed-door meeting in which the late trial date was announced. “A trial date is a trial date.”

The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and spilling an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Beaches, wetlands, and other ecologically sensitive marine environments from Louisiana to Florida were awash in oil and tar during the spill, and scientists remain uncertain about the scope and duration of the damage.

BP and plaintiffs’ attorneys reached an agreement March 2 that allocates billions of dollars for medical claims and economic damages. The agreement does not include the claims of the U.S. government, Alabama and Louisiana, financial institutions, casinos, plaintiffs in certain parts of Florida and Texas, and individuals and businesses alleging harm from the temporary drilling moratorium that was imposed on the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.