Amid Highly Complex and Confusing Process, Feinberg’s Claims Facility Provides No Answers


Well, now we know why you can’t get somebody – anybody – on the phone to answer questions about the status of your damage claim. Ready for this? Nobody has been hired to answer individual claim-related questions. That mind-blowing revelation, reported by the Press-Register, is leaving many down along the Gulf Coast scratching their heads in utter disbelief and consternation.

This enormous oversight shows that, in a world of laws and regulations, the BP claims czar continues to make up the rules of this process as he goes. In this latest example, Feinberg is saying that hiring people to answer oil spill claims questions – which you probably thought had already taken place long ago – is “under advisement.” Another, equally maddening, example is Mr. Feinberg’s “decision” to offer short-term “emergency payments” on Gulf claims for six months, and then to force anyone seeking final settlements to sign away future legal options (in effect agreeing not to sue BP and others responsible for the spill).

This illustrates one of the problems we’ve faced all along: There are no real hard-and-fast rules that govern this claims process. And in the absence of an official process with actual rules, we see how political pressure can sway decisions and determine fates. When the real estate industry flexed its muscle in Washington, it got a separate fund administered by a payout company of its own choosing. When Mr. Feinberg insisted that geographic proximity play a major role in claims payouts, political pressure forced him to reconsider. Now, the concept of forcing final settlements right away is coming under fire, and we see Mr. Feinberg, yet again, “reconsidering.”

Alabama’s Press-Register is reporting that: “Feinberg also said that he is inclined to offer further interim payments to some claimants, although he has not made a final decision. Previously, his plan was to provide a round of emergency payments, and then give a final settlement. To accept the final payment, the claimant would have to sign away the rights to sue BP PLC, the majority owner of the well that spawned the Gulf spill. But people can choose to delay the final settlement process into 2013. Feinberg said that he leans toward allowing interim payments every few months to people who can prove losses, still without any requirement for the claimant to sign away the right to sue BP.”

That is, as they say, “new news” in some circles. What this all boils down to is even more chaos, stress and uncertainty surrounding the BP claims process. And more uncertainty means more time goes by, more jobs are lost, more businesses fail, more families are torn apart, more communities are destroyed. Meanwhile, it remains incredibly troubling that one man can simply decide the fate of thousands – apparently without even bothering to hire folks to answer our most basic questions.

Read a good story about the hiring and related issues here:

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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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