BP says it has reached settlements to resolve billions of dollars of claims from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and asked a US judge for a long delay in any trial over remaining disputes stemming from the disaster.
The London-based oil company expects under Wednesday's agreements to pay $7.8bn to resolve economic, property and medical claims by more than 100,000 individuals and businesses.
That payout would make the accord one of the largest class-action settlements in US history. There is no cap, and the ultimate payout may be higher or lower than BP projects.
"Neither side will receive everything it wants," but the settlements are "more than fair, reasonable and adequate" and could avert a decade of litigation, BP and plaintiffs' lawyers said in papers filed in New Orleans federal court.
This Friday is the two-year anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and triggered the largest US offshore oil spill from BP's ruptured Macondo well.
About 4.1 million barrels of oil were spilled and not cleaned up, the US government has estimated.
"BP made a commitment to help economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast," Chief Executive Bob Dudley said in a statement.
"This settlement provides the framework for us to continue delivering on that promise, offering those affected full and fair compensation, without waiting for the outcome of a lengthy trial process."
In a separate statement, Stephen Herman and James Roy, lawyers on the so-called Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (PSC), said the settlement held BP "fully accountable".
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking up to $600m to cover fees and costs, including a $75m interim award. These are separate from amounts paid to victims.
BP still faces tens of billions of dollars of potential claims from the US government, Gulf states, and drilling partners Transocean Ltd, which owned the rig, and Halliburton Co, which provided cementing services.
The oil company's potential liability for violating the federal Clean Water Act alone could reach as high as $17.6bn upon a finding of gross negligence. BP has already taken a $37.2bn charge for the spill.
About 109,000 condominium owners, hotel and resort operators, restaurateurs, shrimpers and others may be eligible to recover on economic and property claims, court papers show.
The medical settlement addresses claims by people made ill from exposure to oil or chemical dispersants. It covers clean-up workers and residents of beachfront or wetland areas, and allows people who develop symptoms later to sue BP at that time.
About 16,000 plaintiffs have submitted claims, court papers show. Victims who are unhappy with the settlements may opt out and pursue their claims separately.
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|Liaquat Ali Khan|