NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Legal experts say there is still a chance a settlement can be reached before the epic trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill begins in New Orleans.
The massive case is scheduled to begin Feb. 27 in U.S. District Court; however, lawyers for the federal government and the affected states have been negotiating a settlement with British oil producer BP that would head off the trial.
University of Michigan Law School Professor David Uhlmann told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune it is in BP's best interest to clear up the matter as quickly as possible so it can resume normal dealings with federal regulators on matters such as offshore leases.
"BP cannot be successful if the company is in a legal war with the government that controls drilling leases," said Uhlmann, a former head of the U.S. Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section. "Making peace with the federal government is of enormous value to BP's business model."
Uhlmann predicted the government claims could be settled for about $25 billion.
The Times-Picayune said state officials may also want to take a bird in the hand rather than risk losing in court or having the judge significantly reduce any damages they may win.
The trial will settle government claims for cleanup costs, fines and compensation for economic losses. It is a separate case from the thousands of claims filed by individuals who allege economic losses from the huge spill.
Some critics, however, say the states shouldn't settle the case simply to avoid a trial.
"Louisiana stands to gain a huge amount from this, which is why I don't want it to settle," Loyola University tort law Professor Blaine LeCesne said.