Feinberg: Office will take ‘expansive view’ of Gulf oil spill claims


A business need not have been physically touched by oil to receive compensation through BP’s $20 billion claims fund, claims czar Ken Feinberg said Saturday in a telephone interview with the Press-Register.

His comments pleased the governor’s office and a key south Baldwin mayor. “If you run a hotel five blocks from the beach and business is off because people aren’t going to the beach, you are just as eligible, even though oil hasn’t spilled on the beach,” Feinberg said.

He said that Gov. Bob Riley insisted “that I take an expansive view of eligibility, and I plan to do so.”

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said that those comments would ease concerns that emerged after Feinberg met two weeks ago in south Baldwin County with Riley and local leaders.

At that meeting, Craft said, Feinberg echoed statements he made to the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Small Business that, even with $20 billion available, it would not be enough for every claim. Also, according to Craft, Feinberg indicated that public perception alone — for example, just the rumor of tarred beaches, without further evidence of injury — would not necessarily validate claims.

But during an interview from his New York home on Saturday, Feinberg said that he intends to provide businesses and individuals with wide latitude to prove their claims of injury.

“I never suggested — and if I did, I was in error — that only those who own property where there was physical degradation of the property could recover,” Feinberg said. “That’s a much too restrictive scope for compensation.”

Todd Stacy, the governor’s press secretary, was glad to hear Saturday afternoon of Feinberg’s comments. “The governor and others have communicated what Alabama’s needs are and the issues that have existed up till now, and hopefully now those will be resolved,” he said.

Said Craft, “I think he listened very carefully to the story we’ve told him. We told him that anything that affects the beach ripples all the way through the tourism community. Whether you’re on the water or not, if you don’t have tourism you don’t have anything.”

Feinberg said that federal and state laws can offer guidelines to his office as it assesses claims eligibility in this unique situation.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 will be a guide for determining property damage and lost profits, he said. State laws will be consulted in personal injury claims — particularly health-related claims, he said.

Feinberg said that his office is establishing a process “that will be even more expansive in finding legitimate claims of compensation” than currently exist at the state or federal levels.

“I must apply my own discretion in a consistent and fair fashion,” he said.

Proximity to spilled oil is just one element to consider, he said.

“As in 9/11, geography helps a great deal. But geography is only one factor,” Feinberg said. “There’s a presumption, obviously, that the closer you are to the Gulf, to the beaches, the fishing, the sightseeing, the easier it is to find a link. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that if you don’t have the benefit of geography you’ll automatically be excluded.”

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

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