BP oil spill trial postponed

A dead crab is seen in a piece of marsh ravaged by the effects of the BP oil spill April 17, 2011 in Ocean Springs, Miss. BP and other companies involved in the Gulf oil spill could face more than $50 billion in damages.

David Brancaccio: A "trial of the century" has been postponed for one week. The case over the BP oil spill was due to start in New Orleans today.

Marketplace's Stephen Beard joins us live this morning from London. Good morning, Stephen.

Stephen Beard:Hello David.

Brancaccio: So how important is this trial to BP?

Beard: Very important. It's a huge case, a civil case involving the federal government, the governments of the various states affected by the spill and 116,000 individual claimants -- these include fisherman and hoteliers who say their business was damaged by the spill. Chris Grabowski of Peak Oil Consulting says these are claimants who have not already benefited from BP's $20 billion compensation fund.

Chris Grabowski: It is basically all these people who either refuse to take compensation or weren't offered compensation, getting together with their lawyers to see what they can get out of it.

Brancaccio: What are they trying to get out of it, Stephen? How much money is at stake?

Beard: Well, the sky's the limit. The critical question for the trial will be: Was BP grossly negligent in the way it allowed the rig to be operated? If gross negligence is established, the penalties paid to the federal government alone could multiply by a factor of six or seven, and there could be exemplary damages awarded to the plaintiffs. This could cost BP tens of billions of extra dollars, which is why the company's been scrambling to settle out-of-court. We may find out how successful they've been if or when the trial begins next Monday.

Brancaccio: Marketplace's Stephen Beard in London.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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