A federal judge ruled this month that oil firm BP was "grossly negligent" in its conduct leading to the 2010 explosion, fire, and massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The ruling means that BP could, under the law, be fined billions of dollars in punitive damages. Eleven workers died in the disaster, and oil flowed unchecked for three months from the damaged wellhead on the ocean floor.

Bloomberg has the story here (see "'Worst Case' BP Ruling on Gulf Spill Means Billions More in Penalties," by Margaret Cronin Fisk, Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Jef Feeley). Reports Bloomberg: "BP Exploration & Production Inc. is 'subject to enhanced penalties under the Clean Water Act' because the discharge of oil was the result of its gross negligence and willful misconduct, Barbier held. BP said it 'strongly disagrees' with the decision and will challenge it before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans."

The New York Times reports, "By finding that BP was, in legal parlance, grossly negligent in the disaster, and not merely negligent, United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier opened the possibility of $18 billion in new civil penalties for BP, nearly quadruple the maximum Clean Water Act penalty for simple negligence and far more than the $3.5 billion the company has set aside." (See: "BP May Be Fined Up to $18 Billion for Spill in Gulf," by Campbell Robertson and Clifford Krauss.)