An Incomplete Satisfaction

As I’d thought, the settlement between BP, and Gulf residents and businesses will not, it seems, ever come to public trial. The New York Times reports that lawyers for the parties are close to a final agreement and the trial, scheduled to begin on Monday, will be “adjourned indefinitely.” 

The Times article states:

The two lawyers who led the plaintiffs’ steering committee, 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.”

“Full measure of compensation,” perhaps, but this settlement will deny to people whose way of life has been significantly threatened, if not for all intents and purposes destroyed, the opportunity to face BP executives in open court, watch them testify and respond to questioning.

The expedited financial settlement was important for these people, and must have been quite literally irresistible, but it doesn’t come free. As is typically the case, it’s America’s working people who will assume the risks, cry the tears and bear the burden of crises created by the self-serving decisions of others.

BP’s Victims Get Day in Court, Perhaps

When the BP/Gulf oil spill case goes to trial in open court later this month, if it ever does, billions of dollars will be at stake, and not just for BP. The rig operator, Transocean, and the rig construction contractor, Halliburton, are also at significant financial risk. And signs don’t look good for them.

Several government probes 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. – Economic Times, 2/15/12

Here are some uncertainties:

  • What portion of responsibility goes to which firm? Obviously, BP owned the facility, but key functions were performed by consultants, contractors and partners.
  • How will the court assess future potential losses which have yet to be specifically claimed? Effects on fisheries, for example, might take years or generations to present themselves.
  • Will this case ever get to actual trial and, if so, will it ever come to a decision? Many observers contend it won’t; they believe a settlement will be reached well before the public gets a full and public accounting of the worst oil disaster in US history.

Transocean and Halliburton have little contact with the general public, but BP has actual customers. Therefore, it has much more at stake from a public relations standpoint in these proceedings; and it has already proven itself less than able in that realm.

Whatever the case, many stakeholders are waiting for their day in court.