One of the biggest legal circuses on Earth — the trial of BP over the extent of its responsibility for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill — is scheduled to open Monday in New Orleans, featuring 34 leading lawyers in a packed federal court and hundreds of others listening to video feeds in rooms nearby.
There will be 400 minutes of opening arguments from 11 parties, including the Justice Department.
The exhibits list is nearly 1,000 pages, and lawyers have filed 126 depositions and names of some 80 potential witnesses.
Settlement talks were under way. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal and state officials were preparing a $16 billion offer to BP, but that is far higher than any figure BP has discussed.
Without a deal, opening arguments begin Monday before Judge Carl Barbier, who will try the case under maritime law and, therefore, without a jury.
"The Gulf oil spill case, if it does not settle before Monday, will be unlike any other trial brought under the environmental laws," said David Uhlmann, professor of environmental law at the University of Michigan. "The Justice Department has never tried an environmental case that involved the human tragedy, economic losses and ecological disaster that occurred during the Gulf oil spill."
Ever since the spill, BP has strived to "make things right," as its ads say, shelling out huge sums to individuals and businesses and in a criminal settlement with the Justice Department in a bid to put the disaster behind it and get on with the business of being an oil company.
Now BP says it is ready to combat charges that it was guilty of gross negligence in the April 20, 2010, blowout on its Macondo exploration well, which set the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on fire, killing 11 people and spilling millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The London-based oil giant says a series of mistakes by its employees and those working for the drill rig's owner, Transocean, and oil-field services firm Halliburton led to the disaster. Those companies also are defendants in the trial.