US Justice Department throws down gauntlet to ‘reckless’ BP

Oil spill

DoJ lawyers launch ‘gross negligence’ case with ‘ferocious’ filing; we’ll see you in court, say BP

LAST UPDATED AT 07:19 ON Wed 5 Sep 2012

THE US Justice Department plans to throw the book at BP over the Deepwater Horizon spill, saying the company's "gross negligence and willful misconduct" caused the 2010 environmental disaster.

In what the Financial Times calls a "ferociously-worded" court filing, DoJ lawyers accused the company of a
“culture of corporate recklessness" and said "the behaviour, words and actions of BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall.”

Reuters explains that gross negligence is central to the case, which is scheduled to be heard in New Orleans in January 2013. If found liable of gross negligence, BP face fines that could nearly quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion.

BP and the US government are understood to be in talks to settle BP's civil and criminal liabilities for its role in the  accident that spewed 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of three months. Neither side will comment on the progress of the negotiations.

The Justice Department claims errors made by BP and the platform's owner, Transocean, in deciphering a key pressure test of the well is clear indication of gross negligence. "That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence," the government says.

The decision to elaborate on BP's alleged negligence was made because US prosecutors fear the firm is trying to escape taking full responsibility. Yesterday, BP rejected the charges, saying it "looks forward to presenting evidence on this issue at trial in January."

Adding to the company's worries, City AM reports BP is being sued in Texas by 20 institutional investors. They claim BP misled them over its safety policies around the time of the disaster. The funds claim they lost substantial sums as a result of BP’s “misleading statements” regarding its “safety first” campaign. · 

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