Barbier schedules trial to hear non-class action claims

NEW ORLEANS — The federal judge who will decide whether to approve a class-action settlement of claims against BP PLC has scheduled a January 2013 trial for other claims spawned by the deadly blowout of the company’s deepwater well in the Gulf Mexico.

After meeting yesterday behind closed doors with attorneys, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier scheduled the start of the trial for Jan. 14, 2013.

The Justice Department wanted the trial to start this summer, but BP asked Barbier to wait until after he decides whether to give his final approval to the settlement agreement. Barbier is scheduled to hold a “fairness hearing” on the proposed settlement on Nov. 8, 2012.

The first phase of a three-phase trial originally was scheduled to start Feb. 27, 2012. Barbier postponed it indefinitely after BP and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee announced they had reached a deal that would resolve billions of dollars in claims by more than 100,000 claims by people and businesses blaming economic losses on the 2010 spill off the coast of Louisiana.

In a court filing Tuesday, government lawyers argued the settlement agreement shouldn’t delay a trial for claims that aren’t covered by the deal. The state of Alabama also asked Barbier to set a new trial for this summer.

The proposed settlement doesn’t have a cap, but BP estimates it will pay about $7.8 billion to resolve the private claims. It doesn’t resolve separate claims brought by the federal government and Gulf states against BP and its partners on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig over environmental damage from the spill.

The deal also doesn’t resolve private plaintiffs’ claims against Switzerland-based rig owner Transocean Ltd. and Houston-based cement contractor Halliburton.

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