BP officials announced Wednesday the company has finalized a deal with thousands of plaintiffs for damages sustained as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The settlement was first negotiated in March. At the time, BP executives said they expected to pay $7.8 billion from a $20 billion fund the company set aside to pay for costs associated with the spill.

That settlement has now been finalized, according to a statement posted on the company's site.

BP made a commitment to help economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast, and this settlement provides the framework for us to continue delivering on that promise, offering those affected full and fair compensation, without waiting for the outcome of a lengthy trial process, said Bob Dudley, BP Group Chief Executive.

The settlement will also cover attorneys' fees and expenses, and will be split up between property damage and medical claims.

The company will be paying for claims filed by more than 100,000 private plaintiffs, reported Reuters.

This finalized settlement is only the first step in what is likely to be a long and drawn-out court battle regarding BP's liability for its role in the oil spill.

If found grossly negligent by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, the company would have to pay as much as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled.

Other companies are being sued for the spill as well as BP. They include Anadarko, one of the largest natural gas companies in the United States; Triton, an oil-field services company; and Transocean, the company that operated the ill-fated rig behind the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.

Halliburton, the Houston-based energy services company that provided the cement that finally sealed the well, is being sued by BP separately to ensure, BP says, that every company involved maintains some level of responsibility for the spill.

Another defendant, blowout-preventer maker Cameron International, already settled. It  was joined in February by Mitsui MOEX Offshore, which agreed to pay $90 million.

The catastrophe began on April 20, 2010, when a fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform caused the rig to sink, allowing roughly 5 million barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf.

BP is challenging the size of the spill, and has accused government prosecutors of withholding evidence suggesting the spill was smaller than originally reported by government sources.