Oil spill legal mess likely one of costliest ever

MIAMI — BP PLC and the other companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are faced with fast-multiplying lawsuits that will provoke one of the most drawn-out and costliest legal battles in U.S. history, one that could easily consume the $20 billion set aside by BP to pay for the disaster, according to legal experts and attorneys nationwide.

One veteran complex litigation attorney estimated that unless there is a quick settlement that satisfies all sides, it will be 2015 before any trials begin and at least 2028 before appeals and other legal issues are fully resolved. The attorney, Lela Hollabaugh of Nashville, Tenn., pointed out that it took 20 years to complete all claims from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska.

“When you’re looking at an incident like this, which has so many different parties in different states, you just simply can’t get through the litigation quickly,” Hollabaugh said. “It just takes a long time to move through the process.”