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Judge postpones trial in Gulf oil spill cases

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A federal judge agreed Wednesday to postpone a trial designed to assign percentages of fault to the companies sued over the massive Gulf oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rescheduled the start of the trial for Feb. 27, 2012, about four months later than the original trial date.

Halliburton Energy Services, Cameron International and other companies had asked for more time to prepare for a trial on the case’s “limitation and liability allocation issues.”

Barbier presides over more than 300 consolidated lawsuits spawned by the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers and triggered the spill.

Testing on a key piece of evidence – the rig’s failed blowout preventer – isn’t likely to be completed until February 2011, Barbier noted in Wednesday’s order.

“While the court intends to expedite this complex litigation to the extent possible, it appears to the court that the defendants’ motion has merit, and that there is good cause to reset the limitation trial date,” the judge wrote.

The trial, which will be held without a jury, is expected to last roughly eight weeks. Issues related to damages will be tried separately.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ attorneys are accusing the companies, including rig owner BP PLC, of using stall tactics to delay other trials linked to the explosion.

“Under BP’s proposed timeline, this court will be lucky to see even a personal injury or wrongful death damage trial before 2013!” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in a court filing Wednesday.

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