Ken Feinberg: 1,200 oil claims checks in the first week ‘not acceptable’


MOBILE, Ala. – The administrator of the oil spill claims operation graded its first-week performance as “not acceptable.”

Ken Feinberg, who spoke to the Press-Register by phone Monday from Massachusetts, also said that every individual claim filed with his Gulf Coast Claims Facility last week had been reviewed, and that claimants should, by today, receive either a check or a message explaining why their claim hadn’t been verified.

Feinberg said that his process by Friday had logged more than 26,000 claims. He took over most claims administration from BP PLC on Aug. 23. As of Saturday afternoon, about 1,200 checks, worth $6 million, had been written, he said.

New numbers were not available Monday.

Feinberg had promised initial payments of up to six months worth of lost earnings. Early checks averaged $5,000.

BP had been paying people an average of about $3,200 per check, which generally reflected one month’s lost income.

Feinberg said Monday that he did not know why the first checks were so small. It will probably take a few weeks to get a good statistical picture of the claims process, he said.

On June 16, President Barack Obama and BP PLC officials agreed that over four years, the company would put $20 billion into a fund that would cover spill damages, including claims.

They also agreed that Feinberg, who ran the victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, would oversee claims from individuals and businesses.

Feinberg got the job in part because of complaints of slow payments and arduous documentation requirements from BP. To that end, Feinberg promised emergency payments to individuals within 48 hours of their claims being approved. He pledged an aggressive seven-day turnaround for businesses.

But by the end of last week, some were beginning to complain that the new process felt an awful lot like the old one.

Benny Casper, a commercial fisherman from Pascagoula, said he filed with Feinberg’s operation the first day it opened, but when he checked his status online, it didn’t recognize his claim number.

He was told that it might take a day or two to get into the system. But as of Monday, the website still hadn’t recognized the number, he said.

“They’ve gotten all my income tax records from the last four years, my boat license, my fishing license, my oyster license, my Louisiana license, my crab license, everything,” he said. “They have no reason to ask for more information from me.”

Feinberg said Monday that several individual claimants did not have enough documentation to prove they lost earnings. Adjusters do not need multiple documents for an emergency claim, he said — something like a letter signed by a priest will do.

“I’m here to pay people, that will be the test of the program,” he said. “If I can’t get that done, then the criticism will be justified.”

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said he had heard that many of the individual claims had been turned around and that people will be getting their checks soon.

Paul and Susan McGavic, of Gulf Shores, had received two months worth of payments from BP before Feinberg took over. They resubmitted their claim the first day Feinberg’s process opened.

After waiting nearly a week, Susan McGavic said, the couple received an e-mail Sunday night saying that their claim had been approved. They didn’t get a check Monday, she said

“We’re hoping for tomorrow,” she said.

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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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