The BP trial in New Orleans to determine how much the company owes for the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been delayed a week to allow for more settlement talks, a court order said Sunday.
The blockbuster trial, in which tens of billion of dollars are at stake -- and in which a federal judge will rule on whether deadly missteps constitute gross negligence leading up to the spill -- had been due to start Monday.
"For reasons of judicial efficiency and to allow the parties to make further progress in their settlement discussions," the court ordered the trial be delayed by a week to March 5.
The adjournment is aimed at allowing BP and the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee "more time to continue settlement discussions and attempt to reach an agreement," BP and the committee said in a joint statement.
"There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement," the two groups added.
Judge Carl Barbier -- an expert in maritime law with a reputation for efficiency -- already has consolidated hundreds of spill-related lawsuits into a single case set to begin on Feb. 27 in New Orleans.
Several government probes already have castigated BP, rig operator Transocean and Halliburton -- which was responsible for the runaway well's faulty cement job -- for cutting corners and missing warning signs that could have prevented the disaster.
The April 20, 2010, explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers, blackened beaches in five U.S. states and devastated the Gulf Coast's tourism and fishing industries.
Barbier is tasked with determining how much of the blame rests with each party and whether punitive damages should be imposed.
BP -- which reported a $23.9 billion profit for 2011 -- has said it is working to reach a settlement with the U.S. government over a host of civil fines and possible criminal charges.
"We are prepared to settle if we can do so on fair and reasonable terms, but equally, if this is not possible, we are preparing vigorously for trial," CEO Bob Dudley said after BP surged back into the black.
That settlement will likely come in at a record $20 billion to $25 billion, Morgan Stanley estimated in a recent research note.
That would significantly exceed the $12 billion provision that BP set aside for those penalties as part of the $41 billion charge it posted in 2010 to cover spill-related costs, analyst Martijn Rats wrote.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012