Federal prosecutors are considering whether to pursue manslaughter charges against BP Plc (BP/) managers for decisions made before the Gulf of Mexico oil well explosion last year that killed 11 workers and caused the biggest offshore spill in U.S. history, according to three people familiar with the matter.
U.S. investigators also are examining statements made by leaders of the companies involved in the spill -- including former BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward -- during congressional hearings last year to determine whether their testimony was at odds with what they knew, one of the people said. All three spoke on condition they not be named because they weren?t authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Charging individuals would be significant to environmental- safety cases because it might change behavior, said Jane Barrett, a law professor at the University of Maryland.
?They typically don?t prosecute employees of large corporations,? said Barrett, who spent 20 years prosecuting environmental crimes at the federal and state levels. ?You?ve got to prosecute the individuals in order to maximize, and not lose, the deterrent effect.?
BP fell 2.2 percent in London trading to 466.55 pence, the steepest drop since January. The shares have rebounded from a post-spill intraday low of 296 pence on June 25.
Criminal and Civil
The Justice Department in June said it opened criminal and civil investigations into the spill, which began after an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that London-based BP leased from Transocean Ltd. (RIG), of Vernier, Switzerland. The department filed a civil suit against BP in December and hasn?t filed criminal charges. It?s continuing to investigate.
Authorities are examining actions by BP managers who worked both on the rig and onshore to determine whether they should be charged in connection with the workers? deaths, according to the people. Prosecutors have been looking at charges of involuntary manslaughter or seaman?s manslaughter, which carries a more serious penalty of up to 10 years.
Scott Dean, a spokesman for BP in Houston, declined to comment. Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, wouldn?t discuss the details of the investigation.
Committing $20 Billion
BP has committed $20 billion to settle claims by businesses and individuals who were hurt by the oil spill. The company has already paid out more than $4 billion to settle such claims and to pay state, local and federal governments for cleanup costs, response and losses, the company said on its website.
The manslaughter investigation is focusing on decisions by BP managers leading up to the explosion that may have sacrificed safety in favor of speed and cost savings, one of the people said.
David Uhlmann, a former chief of the Justice Department?s environmental crimes section, said he expected that companies involved in the spill would be charged with seaman?s manslaughter. Making a case against individual managers would be more difficult, he said.
?You have relatively low-level people in these companies responsible for making bad decisions,? said Uhlmann, who now teaches at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. ?It?s not clear they had adequate training. It?s not clear they all knew what everyone else involved knew.?
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost