A US federal judge has given approval to British oil giant BP's settlement with people and businesses who lost money and property due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The 2010 oil spill was the worst in US history.
The Friday decision, which came in relation to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, does not affect an anticipated tens of billions of dollars of fines and claims BP will have to pay the federal, state and local governments.
Furthermore, the ruling only addresses the settlement of economic and property damage claims, not a separate medical benefits settlement for cleanup workers and others who say they suffered health problems as a result of the disaster.
The spill began on April 20, 2010 after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 workers. It took 87 days to cap the leak. During the incident, some 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) spewed into the ocean, making it the worst environmental disaster in US history.
BP has estimated it will have to pay $7.8 billion to settle over 100,000 claims in the class action lawsuit.
In a 125-page ruling, US District Judge Carl Barbier called the settlement "fair, reasonable and adequate."
Barbier had initially approved the settlement in May, but had held a "fairness hearing" last month to listen to the objections of some 13,000 claimants challenging the settlement.
Lawyers for some affected parties, representing plaintiffs ranging from hoteliers, restaurateurs and oyster farmers, had said some people could be underpaid or unfairly excluded in the ruling.
The deal was welcomed by both BP and the plaintiff's attorney.
The decision resolved "the substantial majority of legitimate economic loss and property damage claims stemming from the Deepwater Horizon accident," said BP.
"We believe the settlement, which avoids years of lengthy litigation, is good for the people, businesses and communities of the Gulf and is in the best interests of BP's stakeholders," the company added.
Attorneys Steve Herman and Jim Roy, who represent the plaintiffs, wrote in a statement cited by US media that "this settlement has - and will continue to - bring the people and businesses of the Gulf the relief they deserve."
Long legal disputes
BP has also been embroiled in a separate, year-long legal dispute with the US and Gulf coast state governments to settle billions of dollars in civil and criminal liability for the explosion.
Several government investigations have criticized BP, oil rig operator Transocean and Halliburton - the firm responsible for the well's faulty cement job - for cutting corners and missing crucial warning signs.
BP agreed last month to pay the government $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to felony misconduct. The two highest-ranking company supervisors aboard the rig during the disaster have also been indicted and charged with 23 criminal counts including manslaughter.
dr/hc (Reuters, AFP, AP)