Judge rules that oil spill is mostly BP's responsibility

Oregon residents may remember the 87-day oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. According to recent reports, a federal judge made a ruling on Sept. 4 that may expose BP to significant penalties in connection with the offshore oil disaster. Although the company has made agreements to pay significant criminal fines and to compensate both individuals and businesses affected by the 2010 incident, the federal ruling could multiply the amount owed by four times.

A 2013 trial was held to address the responsibility for the spill, which killed 11 workers in addition to destroying wildlife habitats. Three companies were involved in the incident, and in the recent ruling, BP was assigned 67 percent of the responsibility due to reckless conduct. A cement contractor, Halliburton Energy Service, was assigned 3 percent of the responsibility, and a Swiss company, Transocean Ltd., was deemed to be 30 percent responsible. BP has responded by indicating that it plans to appeal the decision, noting that the record does not support the conclusions of the district court judge.

BP indicates that it has spent billions of dollars in efforts to clean up the spill and to repay both businesses and individuals who have suffered losses because of the accident. It also entered a guilty plea in connection with manslaughter charges related to the 11 rig workers who died. However, the plea deal did not address civil claims by the government against the company. Moreover, under the Clean Water Act, BP could be made to pay up to $4,300 per barrel of oil that was spilled, and government experts have estimated that 4.2 million barrels spilled into the Gulf.

A company involved in environmental litigation may find the legal issues to be complicated in spite of efforts to settle out of court. A lawyer with experience in environmental cases may be of help when deciding to appeal adverse judgments.

Source: Oregon Live, "BP mostly responsible for oil spill, federal judge rules", September 04, 2014

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