The judge overseeing most of the legal cases stemming from the Gulf oil spill ordered an eight-week trial starting February 27, 2012, to parse out blame among BP Plc, Transocean Ltd and other defendants, according to court documents.
The start date for the non-jury trial, which is likely to be a centerpiece of the litigation, is a delay of four months from what the judge last month indicated was acceptable start date.
The lawsuits, which have been consolidated in a federal court in New Orleans, stem from the April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and set of the worst spill in U.S. history.
The 2012 trial will address who is to blame for the spill, and what portion of blame they will bare.
The trial will not assess damages.
The trial will address whether Transocean can limit its liability under admiralty law to the value of the sunken oil rig, or about $25 million.
In setting the date, the judge cited the need to complete testing on the blow-out preventer and the time it will gather evidence relating to the device, which is a key part of understanding the explosion.
At a hearing in September, lawyers representing injured workers and families bringing wrongful death claims pushed for a much quicker schedule for starting the trial.
Those lawsuits cannot go to a jury trial to assess damages until a court has determined the level of Transocean's liability, said Jeffrey Breit, a Virginia lawyer who has brought numerous lawsuits has a result of the spill.
At a September hearing, the judge overseeing the cases, Carl Barbier, suggested the personal injury cases and wrongful death claims were good candidates for settlement.
The case in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, 2010, No. 10-MDL-2179.