AL.com NEW ORLEANS – Legal experts said pressure is growing on BP to settle civil charges brought against the British oil company for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
BP and its partners on the Deepwater Horizon rig are being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice, private plaintiffs and the states of Alabama and Louisiana in federal court in New Orleans. The civil trial, which could bring up to $17.6 billion in fines against the British oil company, opened on Monday.
Early witnesses have hammered BP for an “every dollar counts” culture that put profits over safety in the Gulf.
Legal experts familiar with the case expressed surprised that it ever got to trial, and said negative attention from the trial could hinder the company’s efforts to recover from the disaster.
“Maybe the settlement offers were just too high or uncertain, so BP was willing to start the trial and see what the evidence showed,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond’s School of Law. “At some point, the adverse publicity may prove so damaging that a defendant may be forced to settle.”
Others said the risk of a “gross negligence” ruling could be potentially catastrophic for BP.
Blaine LeCesne, a professor at Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans, predicted a deal could be made “by week’s end.”
“A day or so more of this bloodbath and BP will get weak in the knees, raise its current $16 billion offer to $18 billion and settle with the U.S.,” LeCesne said Wednesday.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who is attending the trial this week on behalf of the state, said evidence is mounting that BP deserves the harshest possible punishment under the law.
“It just keeps getting worse for them” as the trial moves forward, he said.