New court filings by the Justice Department claim that BP was guilty of "gross negligence and willful misconduct" in the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. The 39-page memo was filed in response to previous legal claims made by BP that the government calls "plainly misleading" in an attempt to absolve the oil company of any responsibility for the incident. The U.S. also attacks BP's claims that the Gulf is recovering quickly from the spill, thereby weakening the claims for damages.
The new filing is a harsh attack on the company designed to undermine their standing in the courts ahead of major trials that will begin January. BP has proposed an $8.7 billion settlement with thousands of Gulf Coast residents and business that would pay out claims to those affected by the spill but would not hold them liable for the accident. The federal government is not a party to that settlement and is worried that the claims BP makes in it could undermine their own civil and criminal cases against the company. This new filing (which you can read online) is meant to dismantle BP's legal arguments and ask that a judge refrain from making legal findings of fact until their own cases go to trial next year. The state of Alabama (which is also not part of the early settlement) also weighed in, accusing the company of wasting time and money trying to stop the spill with a method they knew would likely fail.
While there is still a chance that BP could set with the U.S. and the states, the Justice Department seems determined to punish the company as harshly as it can. A ruling of "gross negligence" would quadruple the damages for violations of the Clean Water Act, potentially costing the company $21 billion in penalties. The spill in 2010 lasted 87 days, spilling nearly 5 million
gallons barrels of oil in the Gulf and killing 11 people when the oil rig exploded and sank.