NEW ORLEANS -- Experts say it's one of the biggest trials in history – the trial of BP and its subcontractors over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Sunday afternoon US District Judge Carl Barbier delayed the start of the trial one week so the parties can continue settlement talks. One local attorney - contracted to BP - said a settlement is now "likely."
More than 500 lawsuits against BP and their subcontractors have been consolidated into one court case in New Orleans. They range from the states of Louisiana and Alabama to private fishermen seeking compensation for damages from the spill.
If the trial happens, the judge will ultimately decide who was at fault in the oil spill and how much.
A panel of attorneys called "the plaintiffs' steering committee" is handling negotiations for most of those suing.
They've been trying to reach a settlement agreement with BP and the others to avoid the trial that was supposed to start Monday morning.
“The sheer enormity of the number of claimants, the liability, which will exceed anything that anyone has ever seen in the court system, makes it much more difficult to settle,” said Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino.
“If it's settled, we'd like to see some of the resources allocated for protecting the Gulf, making sure something like this never happens again,” said Aaron Viles, deputy director of the Gulf Restoration Network.
BP announced the trial delay in a joint statement with the steering committee Sunday afternoon, saying, "BP and the [Plaintiffs' Steering Committee] are working to reach agreement to fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill. There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement."
The lawsuit, whether at trial or through a settlement, will determine how many billions of dollars BP could be fined for the spill.