NEW ORLEANS -- A high-stakes trial started Monday to assign blame and help figure out exactly how much more BP and other companies should pay for the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said he would hear opening statements Monday and the first witness would take the stand Tuesday. Unless a settlement is reached, the judge, not a jury, ultimately will decide months from now how much more money BP PLC and its partners on the ill-fated drilling project owe for their roles in the 2010 environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP has said it already has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil.
But the trial attorneys for the federal government, Gulf states and private plaintiffs hope to convince the judge that the company is liable for much more.
With billions of dollars on the line, the companies and their courtroom adversaries have spared no expense in preparing for a trial that could last several months. Hundreds of attorneys have worked on the case, generating roughly 90 million pages of documents, logging nearly 9,000 docket entries and taking more than 300 depositions of witnesses who could testify at trial.