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U.S. judge approves settlement in BP class action suit

By Terry Baynes

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday gave final approval to BP Plc's settlement with individuals and businesses who lost money and property in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The order only addressed the settlement of economic and property damage claims, not a separate medical benefits settlement for cleanup workers and others who say the spill made them sick.

BP has estimated that it will pay $7.8 billion to settle more than 100,000 claims in the class action litigation.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier initially approved the deal in May, but held a "fairness hearing" in November to weigh objections from about 13,000 claimants challenging the settlement to resolve some of BP's liability for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

London-based BP's Macondo well spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days. The torrent fouled shorelines from Texas to Alabama and eclipsed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in severity.

Lawyers for some affected parties had objected to the deal, reached in March between BP and lawyers representing plaintiffs ranging from restaurateurs, hoteliers, and oyster men who lost money from the spill. They argued that some claimants would be underpaid or unfairly excluded.

But in a 125-page order approving the settlement, Barbier called the deal "fair, reasonable and adequate," citing the low number of class members who objected or opted out.

BP welcomed the approval order in a statement, adding that the settlement resolves the majority of economic and property damage claims stemming from the accident.

"Today's decision by the Court is another important step forward for BP in meeting its commitment to economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf and in eliminating legal risk facing the company," BP said.

Separate from the class action claims, BP has been locked in a year-long legal battle with the U.S. government and Gulf Coast states to settle billions of dollars in civil and criminal liability from the explosion.

In a settlement with the U.S. government announced last month, BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to felony misconduct. The government also indicted the two highest-ranking BP supervisors aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig during the disaster, charging them with 23 criminal counts including manslaughter.

The class action case is In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-2179.

(Reporting by Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Gary Hill)

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