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Gulf oil spill: Escrow chief in BP fund promises speed

June 18, 2010 |  3:13 pm
The man charged with distributing $20 billion or more to the victims of the gulf oil spill said Friday that  he will establish a system of processing and paying claims with “speed, speed for people in need.”

Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington attorney who was named the independent administrator of the BP fund this week, traveled to the gulf region Friday to “hear first-hand what’s being done, what needs to be done, to provide prompt, fair, impartial compensation for people with legitimate claim.”

In Jackson, Miss., Feinberg met with Gov. Haley Barbour. He later met with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to discuss the fund’s operation. Feinberg said he would be building on the system already set up by BP to make short-term immediate payments, primarily for lost wages.  The new expanded system could be ready to handle damage claims within 30 to 45 days, and payments on future claims would be paid within 30 to 60 days, Feinberg said.

In addition to wage-loss claims, the fund will handle interruption of business, personal injury and possibly death claims. Feinberg, who served a similar role for a fund for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, said different forms of corroboration would be needed depending on the type of compensation sought, but all effort would be made to make the process simple and clear. “We will have a methodology, a very transparent methodology in place,” he said.

People accepting emergency payments to make up for lost wages would not forfeit their right to seek further damage from BP through the courts, Feinberg said. But those who seek a single “lump sum” payment from the fund would probably waive their right to sue, Feinberg said. “That’s what we did with the 9/11 fund; it seems to make the most sense,” he said.

Another unsettled issue is what would be considered a legitimate claim. Feinberg said he had not yet decided if businesses indirectly affected by the spill would qualify for compensation. He indicated he would look to state courts for guidance on the issue.

“In the 9/11 fund, the way we dealt with that answer was to look to Mississippi law. If you go to court in Mississippi what would the law in Mississippi say is the appropriate cut-off point?” he said.

-- Kathleen Hennessey

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