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BP Oil Spill Trial Postponed; Gross Negligence Damages Sought

With less than 24 hours to go before the start of the BP Oil Spill civil trial scheduled for February 27, 2012, a New Orleans federal district court judge postponed the trial until March 5th to give the parties additional time to discuss potential settlement.

The suit against BP involves consolidated claims on behalf of thousands of commercial fisherman, seafood processors, restaurants, property owners and tourism-related businesses, as well as claims by state governments and the U.S. Justice Department. Should the case proceed to trial, tens of billions of dollars in economic damages, punitive damages and governmental fines will be sought against BP.

BP had previously set up a fund of $20 billion to settle claims, and the fund has paid out an estimated $6 million to Gulf spill victims. However, thousands of claims were denied or settlements rejected, and the company still faces criminal charges, regulatory pollution fines, and private damage suits.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, caught fire, and sank on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and spilling 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 85 days. Under the Clean Water Act, the Justice Department can seek up to $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled, or up to $4,300 per barrel if gross negligence or willful misconduct is shown, which means up to $21.5 billion in potential fines. The federal government is also seeking cleanup costs, economic damages and natural resource damages for violations of the Oil Pollution Act, which caps damages at $75 million unless BP is shown to have engaged in willful misconduct or gross negligence.

Both the private and governmental plaintiffs allege that BP, the owner of the oil well, was grossly negligent for making a series of cost-cutting decisions and failing to ensure adequate safety measures that resulted in the deadly explosion and environmental disaster. BP contests the allegations of negligence and the government's calculation of the amount of oil spilled

Gross negligence means a reckless disregard for the safety or property of others. In contrast, ordinary negligence is the failure to act in the same manner as a reasonably prudent and careful person would have acted under similar circumstances. If gross negligence is found, it can result in the award of punitive damages, which are above normal compensatory damages for personal or economic loss. Punitive damages are based on public policy considerations that a wrongdoer should be punished or used as an example to deter similar conduct in the future.

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The attorneys at the law firm of Dreyer Boyajian LLP have experience is prosecuting environmental pollution and toxic tort claims. The firm is presently representing a number of Hudson River communities in a lawsuit against General Electric Company for the pollution of their drinking water supplies. Among the claims asserted, the municipal plaintiffs allege that GE was grossly negligent in the handling, disposal and discharge of PCBs into the Hudson River, which is the nation's largest toxic waste superfund cleanup site. The complaint seeks punitive damages. From approximately 1947 to 1977, GE discharged an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from its capacitor manufacturing plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward into the Hudson River. In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a Record on Decision to dredge the river for PCBs. The dredging project began in 2009, and is estimated to take five to seven years to complete.

If you are the victim of environmental pollution or a toxic tort, contact the attorneys at Dreyer Boyajian LLP for a free case consultation.

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