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BP's $7.8B Gulf spill settlement wins initial court OK


NEW ORLEANS (Reuters)—BP P.L.C. won preliminary court approval of an estimated $7.8 billion settlement to resolve more than 100,000 claims by individuals and businesses stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The accord comprises two agreements, including one that covers economic and property claims and one covering medical claims.

In separate rulings on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans said the agreements reached on March 2 were "fair, reasonable, and adequate," had "no obvious deficiencies" and were reached without collusion.

He set a Nov. 8 fairness hearing to address objections, and will then consider whether to grant final approval.

The settlement does not cover claims by the U.S. government or Gulf Coast states, which could amount to tens of billions of dollars, or resolve disputes between BP and its drilling partners Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co.

A comprehensive trial had been scheduled to begin on Feb. 27, but was postponed because BP was negotiating with the private plaintiffs.

BP has asked for a trial on remaining issues to be delayed until after the fairness hearing, to avoid distraction from "overlapping or parallel actions."

The U.S. government and states have said they prefer a trial to begin this summer. They said granting BP's request could push a trial into 2013 or later, and would be unfair to Gulf Coast residents.

Judge Barbier will hold a closed-door conference on Thursday to discuss scheduling and other matters.

BP estimated that the settlement with private plaintiffs would total $7.8 billion. At that amount, it would be one of the largest class-action settlements in U.S. history.

There is no cap, the ultimate payout may be higher or lower, and victims may opt out of the settlement and try to recover separately.

The April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and triggered the largest U.S. offshore oil spill from BP's ruptured Macondo well.

About 4.1 million barrels of oil were spilled and not cleaned up, the U.S. government has estimated. Transocean owned the rig, and Halliburton provided cementing services.

According to court papers, about 109,000 condominium owners, hotel and resort operators, restaurateurs, shrimpers and others may recover on economic and property claims.

The medical settlement addresses claims by people made ill from exposure to oil or chemical dispersants. It covers clean-up workers and residents of beachfront or wetland areas, and lets people who later develop symptoms to sue BP at that time. About 16,000 plaintiffs have submitted claims, court papers show.

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