BP Prepared to Defend Itself in Gulf Oil Spill Civil Liability Trial

"Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case"

LONDON -- BP acknowledged Tuesday it had failed to reach a settlement in advance of next week's civil trial on the Deepwater Horizon accident and is ready to defend itself against allegations of gross negligence in the United States' biggest environmental disaster, said the Associated Press.

BP is preparing for the federal civil trial beginning next Monday in the Deepwater Horizon Multi-District Litigation pending in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. This proceeding is the first of at least two phases the Court has set for the trial. The first phase will be focused on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident, who should be held responsible and to what degree.

Judge Carl J Barbier will preside over the trial.

"We have always been open to settlements on reasonable terms, failing which we have always been prepared to defend our case at trial. Faced with demands that are excessive and not based on reality or the merits of the case, we are going to trial," said Rupert Bondy, group general counsel of BP. "We have confidence in our case and in the legal team representing the company and defending our interests."

BP will "vigorously defend" itself against gross negligence allegations, the company said.

The court will ultimately determine the legal and factual issues at the heart of the case, including whether BP or any other party was grossly negligent.
"Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case," said Bondy. "This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent."

Billions are at stake in the Feb. 25 trial in New Orleans to determine BP's civil liability, the news agency said. BP already agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement of federal criminal charges and has set aside billions more to pay fines and damages resulting from the 2010 spill.

The trial is designed to identify the causes of BP's well blowout in the disaster that killed 11 workers. The first part of the trial also will proportion blame among BP and its partners in the project.

U.S. government investigations blamed the 2010 spill on cost-cutting and time-saving decisions made by BP and its partners. About 200 million gallons of oil spilled, much of it ending up in the Gulf of Mexico and the shoreline of several states.

During a recent conference call connected to the release of company earnings, AP said, BP's CEO Bob Dudley declined to answer questions from analysts as to whether a settlement was possible ahead of the civil claims trial. Instead he simply said that the oil and gas giant was "in the chute to get ready for trial."

Oil flow rate and quantification of barrels of oil spilled are issues that will be addressed in the second phase of the trial, which is scheduled to begin in September 2013. The company said that it believes that the government's public estimate of 4.9 million barrels of oil released is at least 20% overstated.