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BP guilty of 'gross negligence', New Orleans federal court finds

A BP sign in Lower Manhattan
A BP sign in Lower Manhattan
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In one of the most eagerly awaited decisions of the 21st Century, U.S. Federal Judge Carl Barbier ruled today, Sept. 4 in New Orleans Civil Court that BP was guilty of "gross negligence" in its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of Apr. 20, 2014.

Judge Barbier's ruling ("Findings of Fact" for phase 1 of the trial) is 153 pages. On page 114, Barbier states that,

As explained below, the Court finds and concludes that the discharge of oil was the result of BPXP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” under the CWA.

The CWA, or Clean Water Act, dictates that if a company such as BP is found guilty of gross negligence or "willful misconduct" that the fees shoot up considerably. Under the CWA, BP will now be culpable for, no doubt, many millions more. Barbier states:

In the absence of gross negligence or willful misconduct (i.e., if the defendant acted with ordinary negligence or was not negligent), the maximum amount of the CWA civil penalty is $1,100 per barrel of oil discharged. However, the maximum amount per barrel is nearly quadrupled when the discharge results from gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The Examiner is poring through the 115 pages and will offer analysis tomorrow.

Meanwhile, naturally environmental groups are trumpeting the ruling. The National Audubon Society, whose members have worked tirelessly to heal, bury and document the massive bird losses in the Gulf, stated:

“This means that BP will finally be forced to pay what it owes to fix what it broke,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “It’s a long-awaited step toward healing and recovery for the Gulf Coast, its birds and its people. BP said it was above the law; Judge Barbier said the law applies to everyone, even multinational giants.”

BP, of course, sees things differently. Following is their written statement in its entirety.

Statement on Gulf of Mexico

BP believes that the finding that it was grossly negligent with respect to the accident and that its activities at the Macondo well amounted to willful misconduct is not supported by the evidence at trial. The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case. BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court.

The Court has not yet ruled on the number of barrels spilled and no penalty has yet been determined. The District Court will hold additional proceedings, which are currently scheduled to begin in January 2015, to consider the application of statutory penalty factors in assessing a per-barrel Clean Water Act penalty. The Clean Water Act requires the District Court to consider a number of factors in determining an appropriate penalty. The statutory maximum penalty is $1,100 per barrel where the court finds simple negligence and $4,300 per barrel where the court finds gross negligence or willful misconduct. During the penalty proceedings, BP will seek to show that its conduct merits a penalty that is less than the applicable maximum after application of the statutory factors.

Note: Previously, this examiner erroneously reported that the judge's findings was 115 pages. It's 153 pages.