The BP trial in New Orleans to determine how much the British energy giant owes for the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been delayed a week to allow for more settlement talks.
The blockbuster trial, in which tens of billion of dollars are at stake, and in which a federal judge will rule on whether deadly missteps constitute gross negligence leading up to the spill, had been due to start on Monday.
"For reasons of judicial efficiency and to allow the parties to make further progress in their settlement discussions," the court ordered the trial be delayed by a week to March 5.
The adjournment is aimed at allowing BP and the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (PSC) "more time to continue settlement discussions and attempt to reach an agreement," said BP and PSC in a joint statement.
"There can be no assurance that these discussions will lead to a settlement agreement," the two groups added.
Judge Carl Barbier -- an expert in maritime law with a reputation for efficiency -- has already consolidated hundreds of spill-related lawsuits into a single case set to begin on February 27 in New Orleans.
Several government probes have also already castigated BP, rig operator Transocean and Halliburton -- which was responsible for the runaway well's faulty cement job -- for cutting corners and missing warning signs that could have prevented the disaster.
The April 20, 2010 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers, blackened beaches in five US states and devastated the Gulf Coast's tourism and fishing industries.
Barbier will determine how much of the blame rests with each party and whether punitive damages should be imposed.
BP -- which reported a $US23.9 billion ($A22.41 billion) profit for 2011 -- has said it is working to reach a settlement with the US government over a host of civil fines and possible criminal charges.
"We are prepared to settle if we can do so on fair and reasonable terms, but equally, if this is not possible, we are preparing vigorously for trial," chief executive Bob Dudley said after BP surged back into the black.
That settlement will likely come in at a record $US20 to $US25 billion, Morgan Stanley estimated in a recent research note.
That would significantly exceed the $US12 billion provision that BP set aside for those penalties as part of the $US41 billion charge it posted in 2010 to cover spill-related costs, analyst Martijn Rats wrote.