Feinberg promises quick response on spill claims

Published 1:37 pm Friday, August 20, 2010

The man taking over the Gulf oil spill claims process from BP promised spill victims fast service, with short term emergency payments coming in two days for individuals and seven days for businesses if their applications are properly documented.

Ken Feinberg told crowds in Louisiana on Wednesday that there will be one initial bit of red tape for victims with claims currently pending before BP: they will have to submit a new application. But they won’t have to reproduce documentation they’ve already given BP. That will be transferred to the new independent operation Feinberg is heading up.

Feinberg, chosen by President Barack Obama and BP to oversee the independent Gulf Coast Claims Facility, said the new applications will be needed to facilitate faster emergency payments. He added that applicants will be eligible for emergency payments regardless of what they’ve already gotten from BP.

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Those emergency payments will be made for up to six months. And victims who accept them will not have to give up their right to sue BP. Aside from emergency payments, there will also be long-term final payments available. People accepting those final offers will give up their right to sue, Feinberg said.

BP PLC says it has paid about $368 million to individuals and businesses. But thousands of claims were unresolved as BP ended the acceptance of new applications Wednesday in anticipation of Feinberg’s Monday morning takeover.

Feinberg spoke to gatherings in Houma, La. and in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner. The Kenner crowd numbered about 500, a diverse group of fishermen, oyster harvesters, seafood processors and restaurant owners of various ethnic backgrounds.

He promised fair and prompt payments, despite the complexities involved in some claims. He stressed that he would even look at claims rejected by BP before the transition. “I’m not beholden to BP,” he said.

Some listeners were openly skeptical. One asked, through an Asian interpreter, why oil spill victims should trust him, since, despite his new agency’s independence, he will be compensated by BP.

“The only way you trust me is if, over the next few weeks and months, the money is going out in a fair and consistent fashion,” he said.

Asked what his salary will be, he said he would release that information within weeks after the transition is made and a budget is completed.

Lan Nguyen, representing OCA, an advocacy organization for Asian Americans, expressed frustration at the lack of Vietnamese speaking staffers or translators at the existing BP claims offices, many of which will have the same staffers on hand when Feinberg takes over on Monday.

“I’ve retrained all of these people. We’ve set new standards new rules,” Feinberg said, adding that existing staff would be supplemented with additional help if needed and assuring Nguyen that translators will be available.

“We want to believe that he’s going to do meet what he says,” Nguyen said afterward.

Restaurant owner and seafood dealer Tommy Delaune said he was more optimistic about prospects for a fast, fair claim after hearing from Feinberg. His business, he said, is complex, with different facilities in different Louisiana parishes, that include shrimp docks, seafood processing, oyster sales and restaurants. Some of the operations are well established and others were just getting off the ground when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20.

“I’d sold and wholesaled oysters for two months,” he said, adding that BP had turned his extensive documents over to forensic auditors.

Delaune was encouraged by Feinberg’s experience with past disaster claims — including those arising from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “I believe he’s sincere,” said Delaune. “He has some experience in having done this. And he realizes that the buck stops with him.”