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BP Oil Spill Trial Begins, Billions at Stake

By Andrew Lu on February 26, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The BP oil spill may have already cost the oil company billions in its criminal trial. However, the company stands to lose a lot more as the civil trial over the 2010 oil spill begins this week.

Previously, BP had pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay out a $4 billion fine for the spill. However, for its alleged “gross negligence” in causing the spill, BP could face an additional $20 billion in environmental penalties, reports CNN.

As the trial begins, BP attorneys attempted to deflect some of the blame by saying that BP was not alone in causing the oil spill. Instead, lawyers for the giant oil company said that a string of bad decisions by everyone involved including Transocean, the company that owned the drill rig Deepwater Horizon, and Halliburton, the cement contractor, contributed to the spill.

For their part, Halliburton has blamed BP and Transocean, and Transocean has predictably blamed BP for alleged last minute changes to the well design.

As the three defendants point fingers at each other, the plaintiffs in the case (including the five Gulf states, affected individuals and businesses, and the federal government), have attacked BP arguing that the company's goal to cut costs and save money led to a shoddy job constructing the well, reports CNN.

If BP is found to be "grossly negligent," it could be fined as much as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled. If the company is found merely "negligent," the company would be fined only about $1,100 per barrel. This legal distinction could cost BP tens of billions of dollars.

Generally, negligence means that someone acts in a careless or unreasonable way that harmed another. In the BP case, the company is accused of unreasonably and carelessly building its well and ignoring safety concerns.

Gross negligence is just a greater degree of negligence and typically involves a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care. For BP, this can mean ignoring obvious warnings about its well construction. If it can be shown that BP was aware of the dangers, or should have been aware, and willfully ignored these warnings, the company could be liable for gross negligence.

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