About 35,000 oil spill claims still pending; Ken Feinberg hopes to speed process


It will take more than a month to process each oil spill claim received by Ken Feinberg’s operation, based on the rate that Feinberg described Tuesday.

Feinberg told the Press-Register that his Gulf Coast Claims Facility has about 25 people working in Washington, D.C., reviewing about 1,000 claims a day.

He said he hopes to increase the rate to as many as 1,500 a day. At that pace, the 35,000 claims pending as of Monday would be addressed in slightly more than three weeks.

Hiring additional people will not speed the process, Feinberg said, emphasizing the importance of consistency in claims decisions.

“It’s not a question of workforce. If it was, I’d hire more people,” he said. “It’s a question of going through each claim with care.”

He said, “There will, in certain cases, be a delay, and I bear responsibility for that. I’m already getting pushback from claimants, who said, ‘You promised, and you have not delivered.’ And that’s a fair point.”

But Feinberg also said his operation has been more generous than the claims operation run by BP PLC. “I think we deserve some high grades,” he said.

Feinberg, for example, offered good news Tuesday to some business owners, who received earlier payments from BP that didn’t cover the total loss incurred. Those businesses are now eligible for supplemental payments, Feinberg said.

Feinberg took over the handling of spill claims from BP on Aug. 23, as complaints were mounting that the company paid too slowly and asked for too much paperwork.

President Barack Obama chose Feinberg for the claims czar role because of his experience directing victim compensation funds after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In interviews, Feinberg promised emergency payments of up to six months’ worth of lost earnings and that checks would be sent to individuals within 48 hours of their claims being approved. He also pledged an aggressive, seven-day turnaround for businesses.

As of Monday night, 44,282 emergency claims had been submitted. More than 9,000 had been approved, with 6,702 checks paid out, totaling $55 million.

A separate claims system for the coastal real estate community had received $34.5 million.

Of the claims payments thus far, individual checks have averaged about $5,400, and business checks have averaged $14,400. Feinberg said Tuesday that those figures should rise over time. The averages are brought down, in part, because some people opted to ask for one month’s payment instead of six, he said.

He said that adjusters targeted smaller claims, first because they believed those people needed the payments faster.

Feinberg said that some claimants submitted too little documentation to be approved — about 3,000 supplied none at all, he said.

Under Feinberg’s initial process, claimants couldn’t double-dip. If they received a BP check for lost earnings for May, June or July, they could file only for lost earnings from August forward.

Now, under the change announced Tuesday, businesses can put in for more if they felt they were underpaid.

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft was pleased with the news. According to his description, BP, in many cases, low-balled the earlier claims.

Summer is the most lucrative season for coastal business, he said, so owners risked being shortchanged with no way to recover. “Folks would have been left hanging having not received money for the biggest three months of the summer,” Craft said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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