Feinberg Reverses Himself: Proximity to Spill Will Play No Role in Claims Payments


You have to admit, at least Kenneth Feinberg is consistent in his, well, inconsistency. His pattern: Delay and deny claims until the political heat reaches a boiling point, agree with everyone and back off the unpopular position – somehow creating hope without actual commitment – then go back to deny-and-delay until the next crisis. So let’s greet his newest decree about proximity playing no role in claim payments with extreme caution.

The folks at ProPublica, the nonprofit news outfit that won the first online-only Pulitzer, had this to report: “Feinberg’s decision came after discussions with top Florida politicians who urged him to revise his criteria for payments. Feinberg said that he settled on the latest changes after hearing from ‘elected officials in Florida, including Gov. Crist, Attorney General McCollum, CFO Sink and others, about their concerns regarding Floridians’ proximity to the spill and how, regardless of distance, there has been economic impact beyond the areas closest to the spill.'”

The officials pushed the issue, hoping to extend the process to a more inclusive regional approach: “Even in areas that never saw a single tar ball, businesses were hurt by the perception of oil on Florida’s beaches, seafood and coastal waters,” Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida said in a statement.

But ProPublica had this caveat: “Feinberg stopped short of endorsing this standard, but said that if a claimant can prove that losses were caused by the spill, then ‘physical proximity from the spill will not, in and of itself, bar the processing of legitimate claims.'”

Due to the fact that they mostly reside inside his head and nowhere else, nailing down Mr. Feinberg’s actual decision-making processes is like trying to staple Jell-O to a tree. This week, the media is announcing that proximity has “no role” in claims. But, even then, Feinberg adds that physical proximity “… will not, in and of itself” rule out a claim – that seems a bit different than “NO ROLE” at all. See how it works?

Check out the ProPublica story here: http://www.propublica.org/article/gulf-compensation-czar-says-claims-will-no-longer-face-geographic-test

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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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