The decisions and actions that led to the explosion and spill already have been painstakingly investigated by the Coast Guard, federal regulators and a presidential commission. Their probes concluded that BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton deserve to share the blame for a string of risky decisions that were designed to save time and money.
Transocean spokesman Lou Colasuonno wouldn't comment Sunday on whether the company, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, was participating in settlement talks.
"This deal does not change the facts of the case and Transocean is fully prepared to go to trial," he said of BP's settlement talks with the plaintiffs.
The massive scope of the case — a maze of claims and counterclaims between the companies, federal and state governments and plaintiffs' attorneys — has elicited comparisons to the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.
Roughly 340 plaintiffs' lawyers have worked on the oil spill case. BP has spent millions of dollars on experts and law firms. More than 300 depositions have been taken. Millions of pages of legal briefs have been filed. One Justice Department lawyer said it would take him 210 years to read all the pages submitted into the record if he read 1,000 pages a day.
Barbier, a former president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association and appointee of President Bill Clinton, has a reputation for speedy but fair trials. He will hear and decide the case without a jury. Each trial phase is expected to last two to three months, with breaks in between. Even if all parties settle their claims before or during the trial, it could take several months for claims to be paid.
Chris Jones, an attorney, said he's not surprised that BP would seek to avoid a long, costly trial.
"I know that is part of the game, so to speak," he said. "As long as they're paying a lot of money for the damage they caused, it would give me some relief."
Weber reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Cain Burdeau in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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