The oil spill claims process starts over this morning, as the Ken Feinberg-led Gulf Coast Claims Facility takes over from BP PLC.
Feinberg said Sunday in a conference call with reporters that newly trained staff would be ready for a surge of claimants today — a wave he anticipates because the 154,000 claims filed with BP must be refiled under his new process.
All claims offices opened by BP will remain open for now, but Feinberg said he hoped as many people as possible would file over the Internet, avoiding lines.
As of Saturday, BP said it had paid a total of $396 million under its claims process, an amount that won’t be deducted from the $20 billion that BP has agreed to put into Feinberg’s fund over the next four years.
Of that amount, BP paid $97 million in Alabama, including $53 million in Baldwin County and $33 million in Mobile County. Those are the largest amounts of any two counties or parishes in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.
BP paid $152 million in Louisiana, $80 million in Florida and $31 million in Mississippi. Of Mississippi counties, BP has paid $7.3 million in Jackson County, $376,000 in George, $14.7 million in Harrison and $4.4 million in Hancock.
Feinberg has promised a two-part payment system.
Businesses and residents affected by the spill will immediately be able to request a check equal to six months of losses, even if they have already received payments from BP.
After that, they can ask for a lump sum to cover what they feel are existing and future losses. Feinberg will calculate an offer based on the claimant’s financial information and neutral experts’ assessments of the spill’s long-term economic impact.
Real estate agents will get paid out of a separate $60 million pot that will be administered by Realtor associations in the five Gulf states.
If claimants don’t agree with Feinberg’s calculation for future losses, they can refuse the check and either try again or sue BP, Feinberg has said. He will offer the final compensation checks until August 2013.
People who accept that check must sign away any right to future compensation from BP, and that, Feinberg said, was his idea, not BP’s.
But, Feinberg said Sunday, it remains undecided if people who get final payments from his fund will also sign away the right to sue other companies involved in the spill, such as rig owner Transocean.
Those who accept emergency payments don’t have to sign away their right to sue.
In response to attorneys general who are critical of people being asked to give up their rights to sue, he emphasized that his process is entirely voluntary. He said people can sue if they want, but he’s trying to provide an easier route.
“It is not in your interest to tie up yourself and the courts in years of uncertain, protracted litigation when there is an alternative … that hopefully will get you compensated much quicker,” Feinberg said.
He maintained his position that some claims far from the beach would be ruled ineligible but said distance was only one prong of the test. He said that claimants far from the shore would be paid if they are dependent on Gulf resources or if they are part of an affected industry, giving the example of a seafood processor located 100 miles from the Gulf.
“I’m determined to be more generous than any state court would be,” Feinberg said. “I take the position that if I won’t find you eligible, I believe no court will find you eligible.”