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BP trial will push gross negligence claim

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Poor decisions, risk taking and faulty testing led to the 2010 oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, court papers filed by federal prosecutors say.

The trial set to begin Monday in New Orleans will pit federal, state and private concerns against British oil giant BP, drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd., concrete provider Halliburton Corp. and equipment maker Cameron International Corp.

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The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that a review of sealed court documents reveals that the government will attempt to prove BP is guilty of "gross negligence."

If the court agrees gross negligence was a factor, that would quadruple what could be billions of dollars in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Court papers say BP "knowingly took additional risks," at the drilling platform, where an explosion on April 20, 2010, killed 11 workers and set off and underwater oil leak that continued for 87 days.

The company "knowingly failed to maintain" safe procedures at the rig and "thoroughly botched" a safety test before the accident, court papers say.

BP, in turn, argues that it was not negligent and is likely to base its arguments on the belief that it is not the only culpable party.

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The argument that Transocean and Halliburton share the blame has already been weakened in court when Judge Carl Barbier ruled this month that BP was contractually obligated to indemnify them against damages unless they it was proved that Transocean and Halliburton were themselves guilty of gross negligence.

The companies are also facing counter lawsuits filed against each other and there is still a chance the oil giant could settle the case before the trial is completed.

That doesn't mean a scorecard won't help. Among the many legal battle fronts, Misui & Co.'s Moex Offshore LLC unit agreed to a $90 million settlement with federal prosecutors. The company, which did not admit any wrongdoing, owned 10 percent of the oil well.

BP's partner Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has agreed to pay BP $4 billion. Moex has anted up $1 billion, Cameron International $250 million and Weatherford Oil Field Services $75 million in exchange for immunity from most charges.

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