BP's chief executive, Lord Browne, has been told to testify over the firm's Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured hundreds more in 2005.
Lord Browne has been told to make himself available to lawyers
A judge has ruled that plaintiffs can seek a deposition from Lord Browne in their case against the firm.
A BP spokesperson said: "We respect the judge's decision and are weighing the options."
The firm recently announced a complete review of its global operations following last year's Texas blast.
Fifty-two workers instigated the federal case against BP after they were hurt in the blast.
"Primarily it will be questions regarding the budget and why in the years running up to the explosion [Lord Browne] ordered 25% budget cuts," Tony Buzbee, the plaintiff's lawyer, told Reuters news agency.
The firm, which has already settled several cases resulting from the blast, has put $1.2bn (£641m) aside to resolve legal disputes.
The ruling by District Judge Samuel Kent requires that over the next three weeks Lord Browne makes six hours of his time available to lawyers, in his London office.
Concerns raised by the blast come as other events at BP's facilities during the past 18 months have highlighted worries about the firm's safety record.
As well as the Texan explosion, pipe corrosion hit the firm's Alaskan production causing partial closure of one its oil fields.
BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field - the largest in the US - cut production by nearly half after the leaks were discovered.
In early September, lawmakers at a congressional hearing said BP's neglect of pipelines in Alaska was "unacceptable".
The company is facing US legal charges relating to both events, and is also being investigated over the alleged manipulation of crude oil and petrol prices.