Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a criminal and civil investigation into Deepwater Horizon. Although expected, this confirms the worst fears of BP CEO Tony Hayward and associated executives.
"If I were an exec at BP, I wouldn't be sleeping for the next several years," said Tony Buzbee, a trial lawyer who has faced BP in several cases.
Buzbee expects a federal criminal investigation to occur in secrecy over several years. The most likely charge is violation of the Clean Air and Water act, which could lead to one year in jail for persons deemed responsible.
Manslaughter charges are unlikely, as these fall outside the ambit of a federal prosecutor, according to Buzbee.
Buzbee expects the oil company to pay out generous private settlements and then ask for reduced charges in a criminal case. BP followed a similar strategy in the 2005 refinery explosion, when it plead guilty to a relatively minor criminal violation after paying out over $2-billion in private settlements.
Jail time, however, is not the biggest concern for BP.
Prosecutors in a criminal case can seek twice the cost of environmental and economic damages resulting from the spill, according to McClatchy. Without criminal convictions, prosecutors may be limited to a 1-to-1 ratio for damage liability.
June 1, 2010