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BP Showed 'Gross Negligence and Willful Misconduct': US Department of Justice

Common Dreams staff

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this April 21, 2010 file handout image. (Photo: Reuters/U.S. Coast Guard)

The US Justice Department charged oil company BP of "gross negligence and willful misconduct" in new court papers filed Friday, for the company's handling of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The filings were made public this week, revealing the DOJ will be taking a hard line with the company who will be on trial early next year.

A new court case will go to trial in New Orleans in January 2013. BP had previously reached a $7.8 billion settlement in March with victims of the spill, but the new DOJ charges would nearly quadruple those civil damages owed by BP, under the Clean Water Act, to $21 billion.

"The behavior, words, and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall," government lawyers wrote in the filing on August 31 in federal court in New Orleans.

"That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence," the filings continue.

The department's latest filing "contains sharper rhetoric and a more indignant tone than the government has used in the past," David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan professor and former environmental crimes prosecutor, told Reuters.

The US government and BP are currently engaged in talks to settle civil and potential criminal liability, but the new filing is likely to dissuade an out of court agreement.

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