By Allen Johnson Jr. and Margaret Cronin Fisk
The U.S. judge presiding over lawsuits tied to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill said he is “leaning” toward approving BP Plc (BP/)'s multibillion dollar settlement with private plaintiffs.
BP in March agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and spill and cleanup-related injuries. Lawyers for BP and the plaintiffs filed the accord April 18 with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, seeking preliminary approval. The settlement establishes two separate classes, one for economic loss and the other for any physical injuries related to the spill or the cleanup.
Barbier said at a hearing yesterday that he is “leaning” toward preliminary approval because “without it there can be no due process.” This includes sending out notices to potential class members, he said. “But again I remind people, this is just a starting point, not an ending point,” Barbier said.
Barbier said he would issue a ruling “within the next several days or a week or so.”
The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP; Transocean Ltd. (RIG) (RIG), the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig; and Halliburton Co. (HAL) (HAL), which provided cementing services.
The proposed settlement, reached March 2, days before a scheduled trial on liability for the 2010 spill, doesn’t cover federal government claims and those of Gulf Coast states Louisiana and Alabama.
It also excludes claims of financial institutions, casinos, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling prompted by the spill.
Lawyers for BP and the plaintiffs argued yesterday before Barbier for preliminary approval of the settlement. Barbier didn’t hear from objectors to the settlement, including Halliburton. Barbier said he would review all objections.
“This is not a final approval of anything,” Barbier said as the hearing began. The proceeding is meant only to consider the request by BP and plaintiffs’ attorneys for preliminary approval, he said. “The earliest we could get final approval on this scheduled would be early November,” he said.
“Preliminary approval of both settlements is warranted,” BP lawyer Richard Godfrey told Barbier. The agreement is “comprehensive” and far-reaching, he said.
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