BP oil spill victims will get 3 options for compensation

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 13, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Kenneth Feinberg, the head of the Gulf oil spill fund, said Monday that victims of the BP oil spill will have three options for final compensation from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and all but one of them requires claimants to give up their right to sue.

Oil from the damaged BP well gushed into the Gulf for three months, affecting all aspects of life on the Gulf Coast, from tourism to restaurants to the fishing industry to casinos.

The three options would apply to the next phase of the compensation program, now that the emergency phase — which distributed $2.5 billion to more than 160,000 businesses and individuals in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas — is complete.

Under option one, the fund would make a final lump-sum payment based on documented damage, but claimants give up the right to sue. Under option two, claimants would get interim quarterly payments but reserve their legal recourse. Under option three, applicants who already have received emergency funds would get a quick payout of $5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses without having to provide additional documentation, but they would have to give up the right to sue.

"The goal in providing these three compensation alternatives is to give each and every eligible claimant an opportunity to choose which option is best," Feinberg said. "The choice is purely voluntary."

Feinberg said that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, as his operation is officially known, will provide legal counsel to advise claimants on the claims process, but not, however, to represent them in lawsuits.

"One size does not fit all," said Feinberg, who presided over the 9/11 victims' compensation fund. Claim forms will be available starting Friday, he said, both online and at the claims offices along the Coast. All options will be available until August 2013.

BP funded the program with $20 billion after the White House demanded a compensation fund.

In addition to providing lawyers, Feinberg said that he would be hiring "live bodies" — local people who could assist applicants.

He also stressed that people who had been denied compensation before, such as casino workers, should resubmit claims. "We will give any claimant an opportunity to resubmit documentation," he said.

Asked about the casino workers, who have staged demonstrations in Biloxi, Miss., over rejected claims, Feinberg said, "I don't think they've been unfairly treated. . . . They have to document their damage."

Beverly Martin, the executive director of the Mississippi Casino Operators Association, said that very few of the 13,000 workers she represents were compensated under the emergency phase. She said that some workers in restaurants inside casinos got nothing, while workers in restaurants across the street were compensated.

"The inconsistency — that's wherein lies the problem," she said, adding that the new plan "is another step in the right direction."

Casino dealer Connie Penuel was denied payment but will "absolutely" file again. "For Mr. Feinberg to come out and give an assessment that casinos are not directly related to tourism is wrong," Penuel said.

Tom Becker, the president of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captain Association, said that, so far, "a lot of the guys are very disappointed" in the compensation fund.

"We're getting (back what) we put in as proof of loss," he said, showing fishing charters that were canceled — but not ones that they would have been able to attract in a normal summer.

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