A federal judicial panel has agreed to consolidate the 77 lawsuits over the BP oil spill in New Orleans, despite objections from some of the defendants who wanted the cases heard on more neutral territory.
The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation had been wrestling with the question of what to do with the cases, which had been filed in each of the Gulf Coast states.
While some parties—including some of the plaintiffs—wanted each case to be tried separately, the panel decided that consolidating them in one court "will eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings...and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary."
The panel also noted that combining the cases will help to streamline the BP compensation fund run by attorney Kenneth Feinberg.
Under the ruling, the cases will all be heard by United States District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. Barbier himself has been the subject of scrutiny after revelations he once owned bonds issued by some of the companies involved, but a federal appeals panel last month refused to remove him from the case.
The panel's ruling calls Barbier "an exceptional jurist," while noting, "we have every confidence that he is well prepared to handle a litigation of this magnitude."
Even with the consolidation, experts have said the litigation following the largest oil spill in U.S. history is likely to drag on for years.
Shares of BP were lower in late New York trade Tuesday.