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Civil claims arising from the explosion and oil spills of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig were scheduled to start trial today before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. More than 500 lawsuits against BP PLC and other defendants were consolidated into one of the largest multidistrict litigation proceedings on record,  for personal injuries, environmental violations and economic losses. However, the start of the trial was delayed at the last minute until March 5, to permit settlement talks.The trial will take place in three phases.

Phase 1 will focus on the explosion and sinking of the drilling rig. This is of primary importance to claims for rig workers who were injured or died.

Phase 2 will focus on liability for economic and environmental damage caused by the spread of the oil that gushed from the well

Phase 3 will address all other liability issues, including failure to contain the oil.

More than 200,000 other claimants have accepted compensation from the Golf Coast Claims Facility, the $40 billion compensation fund  set up by BP and the federal government. More than $4 billion has been paid out, according to the fund’s annual report.

In addition to the massive litigation before Judge Berbier, 34 other cases relating to the incident are pending in various state courts.

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