U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled on Thursday that BP, Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton the contractor that cemented the well were all guilty of “gross negligence” in the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the spring of 2010.
Barbier placed the most blame on BP which leased and operated the rig from Transocean, 67 percent, according to the judge who place 30 percent of the blame on Transocean and 3 percent on Halliburton.
The ruling could lead to civil fines of as much as $18 billion for BP, which has already agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal fines in the case. Had the company been found guilty of simple negligence, it could be held liable for a penalty of $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled, the finding of gross negligence raises that amount to $4,300 per barrel. Under federal law 80 percent of the penalty, whatever it comes to after the third phase scheduled to begin in January will go to restore the Gulf of Mexico.
The third phase of the non-jury proceeding will decide how much oil spilled, the government contends that about 5 million barrels leaked into the Gulf while BP maintains that only 3.3 million barrels spilled.
In a 153 page ruling Barbier wrote:
“The Court finds that the conduct of BP’s employees was egregious enough that exemplary or punitive damages would he appropriate. However, in light of Fifth Circuit precedent, the Court concludes that BP is not liable for punitive damages.”
BP, of course, disagrees with the ruling issuing a statement which said:
“The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case. BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court.”
Earlier in the week BP agreed to a $1.1 billion settlement with civil plaintiffs and reported that this would settle nearly all the company’s financial responsibility for the spill.
In December 2012 the company agreed to a $4.5 billion criminal penalty.
BP has set aside $42 billion to cover the civil damages in the thousands of civil suits and says that it has paid out $28 billion so far to settle claims resulting from the massive spill.