US District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans will preside over the civil trial (originally set to begin today but now postponed one week) that seeks to establish the causes of, and liability for, the Deepwater Horizon explosion that triggered the worst oil spill in American history (so far). The trial is expected to last three months amid continuing settlement talks between the parties involved–and the reason for the delay is to give more time for those discussions. BP has already paid about $7 billion to victims and could be liable for $40 billion more in damages and penalties.
The first witness will be Robert Bea, from the University of California at Berkeley who has spent half a century investigating industrial accidents.
His testimony will sound familiar to BP and its partners on the Macondo well. As a consult to the White House commission investigating the 20 April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Bea produced four reports faulting BP and its partners on the doomed well for having a cavalier attitude towards safety. The reports also said the 20 April 2010 disaster was preventable.
With Bea’s testimony, lawyers for some 130,000 plaintiffs hope to make the case that BP and its partners were grossly negligent in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.
There is no jury in this trial, so it will be up to Judge Barbier alone to decide all questions about liability and to determine the merits of expert witness testimony and evidence. Before being named to the federal bench, he was a trial lawyer representing plaintiffs similar to the ones in this case and is extremely knowledgeable about admiralty and maritime law.
“All the attorneys I’ve talked to say he’s very even-handed and very careful,” Sherman [Tulane Law School professor and former dean Edward Sherman, an expert on complicated litigation] said. “I don’t think anybody is claiming he has any predispositions in this case.”