Victims of the nightmarish BP oil spill that for three months in 2010 gushed 53,000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico have been awarded $7.8 billion in damages. The order, issued late last night by Judge Carl J. Barbier of Federal District Court in New Orleans, The New York Times reports, stated that both sides “have reached an agreement on the terms of a proposed class settlement which will be submitted to the court." That agreement suspends the trial to determine who was at fault for the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon that caused the disaster, which was scheduled to begin on Monday. As Time's Bryan Walsh points out, preparations for that trial produced "72 million pages of documents and included the depositions of more than 300 witnesses."
Next, the proposal is submitted to the court for approval, Bloomberg reports. Barbier will set a conference with lawyers for both sides "to discuss issues raised by the settlement" and to set a new trial date. Either side has the right to terminate the settlement within 45 days. Should it pass, the over 100,000 victims who filed suit against BP are all offered the option to "opt out" of the settlement if they aren't happy with its terms. Complicating matters is a separate claim fund, worth $20 billion and run by class action attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who ran a compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 attacks. The AP reports that the fund, which has already distributed $6 billion to victims and environmental repair groups, will "cease at some point," as the money will be diverted into Friday's settlement. If claimants reject both the Feinberg fund -- which many complained provided too little, too late -- as well as the new agreement, they can still sue BP directly, according to the AP report.
Still, both sides seem upbeat about the new settlement. BP's chief executive, Robert Dudley, issued this statement:
“The proposed settlement represents significant progress toward resolving issues from the Deepwater Horizon accident and contributing further to economic and environmental restoration efforts along the Gulf Coast.”
The two attorneys who led the plaintiffs' committe, Stephen J. Herman and James P. Roy, said:
“This settlement will provide a full measure of compensation to hundreds of thousands — in a transparent and expeditious manner under rigorous judicial oversight.”
BP claims it has already spent $14 billion on cleanup efforts, and an addition $8 billion in damages to individual victims. The new settlement won't increase the grand total of $37.2 billion the company has offered as the official price tag for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.