NEW ORLEANS – Nearly two years after his brother Gordon was killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, Chris Jones had planned to drive in from Baton Rouge with other relatives to attend the start of the federal trial over the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster.
But Jones learned Sunday that a judge had delayed the start of the trial from Monday to March 5 because oil giant BP PLC was making progress in settlement talks with a committee overseeing
scores of lawsuits. Jones said he has mixed feelings about the prospect of a settlement, adding that he would be disappointed if BP manages to “write a check to solve their problems.”
“I was ready to go to trial and see their feet held close to the fire,” he said Sunday. “It seems like the easy way out to pay whatever the plaintiffs are willing to take.”
Two people close to the case told The Associated Press the decision to postpone was made Sunday during a conference call between parties in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill case and U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the call.
They said the judge told those on the call that BP and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee were “making some progress” in their settlement talks. The steering committee is overseeing lawsuits filed by individuals and businesses following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010. The blast killed Gordon Jones and 10 other workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from the blown-out well, soiling miles of coastline.
However, the judge did not mention the status of settlement talks between other parties, nor did he mention any figures being discussed, according to the people close to the case.
The brief order issued by Barbier on Sunday said only that the delay was granted “for reasons of judicial efficiency and to allow the parties to make further progress in their settlement discussions.”
Among other things, the trial that is now set to begin March 5 is meant to determine the penalties that need to be paid by BP and other companies involved in the oil spill. Billions of dollars are at stake.
BP and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee confirmed in a joint news release that the trial had been delayed. It said the oil giant and the PSC were working to reach an agreement that would “fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.”
“There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement,” the joint statement said.