Independent claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg conducts a town hall meeting for residents economically affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Feinberg is perhaps best known for managing the compensation fund for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Independent claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg conducts a town hall meeting for residents economically affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Feinberg is perhaps best known for managing the compensation fund for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Gerald Herbert/AP
BP has paid out $376 million to individuals and businesses damaged by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But starting Monday, an outsider — attorney Kenneth Feinberg — will take over the claims process. This week, he's been on the Gulf Coast answering questions from those seeking compensation.
Feinberg is perhaps best known for managing the compensation fund for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Now he's overseeing claims from oystermen, boat owners, seafood wholesalers, hotel owners and others whose livelihoods are linked to the Gulf.
Appearing Wednesday on a small stage before about 300 people in Houma, La., Feinberg lectured, cajoled and asserted that once he takes over Monday, the process will be accessible, fast and fair.
"I will be extremely lenient in documentation," Feinberg said. "I don't need reams and reams of stuff. I don't need a tax return. Do you have something you can show me? Well, the ship captain will vouch for me — fine. Well, my priest will — fine."
Feinberg says legitimate claims from individuals for up to six months of lost income will be paid within 48 hours. Business claims will be addressed within seven days. That would be a huge improvement over the current process. While some individuals have been paid promptly, others have not.
Mike Ferdinand, head of the Economic Development Authority in Houma, said many businesses were given the run-around with multiple agents, and little or no money from BP.
"It was very inconsistent, it almost seemed like underwriter roulette," Ferdinand said — different adjusters coming up with different amounts.
The process that Feinberg laid out will give businesses and individuals money now. The second part of the process, compensation for long-term losses, will be worked out next year. To get those funds, claimants will have to agree not to sue the oil giant.
Gulf Coast residents line up to ask questions during Feinberg's town hall meeting.
Gulf Coast residents line up to ask questions during Feinberg's town hall meeting. Gerald Herbert/AP
Both sets of claims are to be paid from a $20 billion fund established by BP.
Still, many details remain fuzzy, as Kimberly Chauvin pointed out at Wednesday's forum.
"I've seen your little paper and stuff, but it doesn't say what will be deducted," she said. "Just the same thing BP did, when it came to a claim, no one knows how it works. And there is no paper stating how. I would like something in my hand."
Feinberg promised to make public by Monday the 10-page document detailing how the calculations will be made.
The audience listened intently, but as the meeting wore on, frustration began to emerge. Claimants wanted to know how Feinberg could say he's independent when his salary is being paid by BP.
"I feel that you have a serious conflict of interest," one audience member charged. "The Bible states one man should not serve two masters."
Feinberg answered with a question: "How else would you do this? The cause of this is BP."
Feinberg has been asked repeatedly to reveal his salary. He says he will — probably next month — but insists that he is not beholden to the oil company.
Another testy issue: The compensation that will be given to those who helped BP in the cleanup effort. The oil company asked many boat owners to assist, and they were paid — often handsomely.
Feinberg intends to deduct that money from their compensation package. He contends that although they couldn't do their regular job, they were paid.
"It seems to me eminently fair, and I think that's what any court would do," Feinberg said.
Perhaps, but Chauvin, a boat owner, said later that Feinberg's approach means she and others did BPs dirty cleanup work for free.
"You have no clue as to what we did, and then you are going to act like we should just be grateful for what we got," she said. "Are you kidding me?"
She said she could have stayed home and gotten the same amount of money.