Special Reports

Claims czar seeks to reassure Gulf Coast residents

BILOXI, Miss. — Kenneth Feinberg, the Washington attorney who will take over BP’s $20 billion claim fund within the next few weeks, assured Gulf Coast residents Friday that he will compensate eligible people and businesses damaged financially by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

“I am beholden neither to the administration nor BP,” said Feinberg, who has cemented a reputation for fairness and compassion as administrator of the 9-11 Victim Compensation Fund in New York. “I work for the people in the Gulf.”

Feinberg has been hosting town hall meetings in the Gulf states to explain in layman’s terms how the fund will work. His approach was straightforward when he spoke to an audience of more than 200 on Friday at the Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.

He said his job is to distribute money to people, and businesses large and small, with proven losses.

“I think you’re crazy if you don’t sign up,” Feinberg said. “It’s up to you.” He said people are free to hire attorneys, but they should be prepared to spend five years in litigation. They are also welcome to have attorneys accompany them to file claims, or to consult one of the pro bono lawyers he is lining up to help with the process.

He credited BP with already having paid $200 million in claims. That money, he said, is not being deducted from the $20 billion fund. BP has pledged to continue honoring claims if the initial fund is drained.

A couple of major changes to the claims process are coming. Feinberg wants to expedite payments to businesses. He said those payments have moved more slowly than individual claims.

Rather than monthly payments for emergency claims, which Feinberg called “ridiculous,” the independent fund will offer emergency payments for six months of losses. People who accept those payments will not give up any rights to later sue BP.