BP PLC (BP, BP.LN) has agreed to a no-cap settlement with thousands of individuals and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the oil giant estimates its costs will be about $7.8 billion.

According to statements released late Friday by BP and a committee of lawyers representing Gulf coast plaintiffs, the settlement will create two classes of claims: economic loss claims and medical claims.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website, WSJ.com.)

The economic loss claims will compensate businesses, property owners and individuals who sustained economic damage from the 87-day oil spill, the biggest offshore spill in U.S. history.

The medical claims will compensate a wide range of individuals along the Gulf Coast, including thousands of spill clean-up workers, and will provide medical consultation services for the next 21 years.

BP said the payments will come from the balance of a $20 billion fund it set up previously to compensate Gulf Coast residents and businesses impacted by the spill.

While the settlement doesn’t put a cap on the total payments BP will make, the company estimates it will cost about $7.8 billion to cover the claims, including about $2.3 billion to help resolve economic loss claims related to the Gulf seafood industry.

The settlement, which must be approved by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, is not expected to increase the $37.2 billion charge BP previously recorded in its financial statements.

The settlement does not include claims against BP by the U.S. Justice Department or other federal agencies for violations of the Clean Water Act or by the states and local governments.

BP has paid some $6.1 billion to more than 200,000 individuals and businesses through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, a process overseen by Washington, D.C. attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was appointed to the post by the government. An additional $400 million in payments have been offered by the fund but haven’t yet been completed.

The GCCF will be dismantled but a new system for reviewing and approving claims will be established that will be run by the plaintiff’s attorneys and overseen by the courts.

Late Friday night Judge Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana said that since the settlement “would likely result in a realignment of the parties” the civil trial that was set to start Monday was adjourned so the sides could reassess their positions. No new date was set.

The settlement does not resolve claims the plaintiffs may make against Transocean (RIG, RIGN.VX), the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, cement contractor Halliburton (HAL), or blowout preventer-manufacturer Cameron International (CAM).

A spokesman for Transocean said the settlement does “not change the facts of this case and we are fully prepared to argue the merits of our case based on those facts.”

(c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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