BP is to go to the US Supreme Court in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the compensation settlement for its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico costing billions of dollars more than it had expected.
The company announced on Wednesday that it would ask the court to review decisions by the US Fifth Circuit appeals court in New Orleans, which has rejected BP's arguments that the settlement it agreed with plaintiffs' lawyers in 2012 is being misinterpreted.
On Monday evening the Fifth Circuit judges in an eight to five majority decision declined to hear BP's case again in an "en banc" review by the whole court, leaving the company with the option only of going to the Supreme Court to continue its legal battle.
BP said in a statement that the Fifth Circuit court had been "sharply divided" in that decision. One of the judges, Edith Clement, issued a sharply-worded dissent, backed by two other judges, arguing that court decisions threatened to "funnel BP's cash into the pockets of undeserving non-victims", and the appeals court had made itself "party to this fraud".
BP argued that the dissenting views showed its arguments raised questions of "exceptional importance" and "reflect a deep divide in approaches among the federal appellate courts, and merit Supreme Court review".
It added that if the Fifth Circuit's ruling were allowed to stand, it would "fundamentally redefine" how classes were defined in class-action settlements, which could deter companies from agreeing such settlements in the future.
The Supreme Court now has to decide whether to hear the case.
BP has argued that Patrick Juneau, the court-appointed administrator of claims under the settlement, has been using an excessively generous method to calculate compensation for businesses, which has allowed many that suffered no damage as a result of the spill to be offered large awards.
It said in its statement: "No company would agree to pay for losses that it did not cause, and BP certainly did not when it entered into this settlement."
The company initially estimated the cost of the settlement at $7.8bn, but the high number of claims for business losses meant the final cost was on course to exceed $15bn when payment of those claims was stopped by an injunction last October, pending the result of BP's legal actions.
Lawyers for plaintiffs seeking money under the settlement have argued that BP understood the agreement when it was signed and approved by the court in 2012, and accuse the company of trying to back out of the deal when it discovered the cost was higher than it had realised.
BP suggested in its statement that if the Fifth Circuit court's decisions were not overturned, companies would be encouraged to "engage in protracted litigation that would delay compensation for true victims".
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