Should BP Managers Face Manslaughter Charges?

Last Updated Mar 29, 2011 7:30 PM EDT

Ever since the U.S. Justice Department opened criminal and civil investigations into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, people have speculated whether BP would be charged with gross negligence. And that's looking more likely with the discovery that federal prosecutors are considering whether to charge individual BP managers with manslaughter, Bloomberg reported.

To be clear, it's doubtful that manslaughter charges will be brought against individual BP managers. What makes this newsworthy and horribly damaging for BP is the mere "consideration" of manslaughter charges related to the 11 workers who died last year when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. In short, prosecutors have been investigating whether decisions by BP managers to cut costs led to shortcuts in safety and ultimately to the fatal accident.

The upshot? Prosecutors believe they have strong enough evidence to pursue criminal charges against BP. This means the Justice Department will likely try to prove BP was grossly negligent, a charge that could add up to billions of dollars in fines. For example, a gross negligence charge could bring $21 billion in fines. If BP were able to prove it wasn't grossly negligent or if prosecutors ultimately pursue lesser charges, fines would be about $5 billion.

For argument's sake, let's say BP managers are charged with manslaughter. Should they be? And should those charges go all the way up the line to former CEO Tony Hayward? The prospect of Hayward facing manslaughter charges are close to nil. And those hoping he'll be led away in handcuffs will be disappointed.

That doesn't mean Hayward will walk away unscathed, however. The Justice Department is also investigating statements made by leaders of the companies involved in the spill during congressional hearings last year. Bloomberg reports that prosecutors are trying to determine whether their testimony deviated from what they knew.

Photo from Flickr user Tarter Time Photography, CC 2.0