Administrator of BP Fund Offers Bonuses to Spill Victims Who Bypass Suits


Kenneth Feinberg, who administers the $20 billion fund formed by BP to compensate people for losses from the gulf oil spill, is offering what amounts to a signing bonus to entice more victims to give up their right to sue BP or other companies involved in the disaster.

Kenneth Feinberg, who administers the $20 billion fund for victims of the spill, meeting with gulf area residents in August.

People who have already received emergency payments and do not intend to ask for more money from the fund can sign the final release can get paid for doing so — individuals will receive $5,000 within 14 days of signing, Mr. Feinberg said, and businesses will get $25,000.

“Every single claimant will have a choice,” he said. “They ought to fit the choice to their own situation.”

Last month, Mr. Feinberg closed off applications for the first phase of the fund: the emergency payments to people and businesses.

He moved into the second phase of final payment, where people who do not want to pursue lawsuits will be able to settle for an agreed amount of past and future losses from the spill. That agreement comes with a final, lump-sum settlement, but also a promise not to sue BP or others involved in the spill.

To ease the transition, Mr. Feinberg announced at the time, victims of the spill could file for quarterly payments that, like the emergency payments, carry no limitation on the right to sue BP later.

Mr. Feinberg said he was planning to make the official announcement on Monday of the additional signing-bonus wrinkle to the final settlement plan. “This is simply a way to close the file in their own particular circumstances and move on,” he said.

He suggested that the likeliest candidates for the payment might be those who had received emergency funds and had determined that their losses have already been fully covered by the BP fund, or who believe they will not be able to properly document further losses.

To help them make that decision, he said, his team will make free legal advice available and will add to the staff at local centers for the fund to help people fill out their forms for final claims.

The Department of Justice urged Mr. Feinberg last month to clear its backlog of claims by Wednesday. Mr. Feinberg said his team had met that goal, paying about 164,000 claims out of more than 450,000 filed.

That means that more than 200,000 others were denied, mostly because of poor documentation or no documentation for their claims at all. Some 2,000 of the claims are “very suspicious,” Mr. Feinberg said, and many of those have been referred to law enforcement agencies, which last week began issuing indictments.

Mr. Feinberg said people who had been denied emergency claims would have the opportunity to gather more thorough documentation and file for permanent claims.

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “Every claimant should carefully consider your options.”

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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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