The administrator of the BP oil spill claims fund is inspiring both praise and criticism. One group of BP oil spill lawyers who have had success getting damage claims paid for their clients are praising attorney Kenneth Feinberg’s efforts. Others, however, are questioning his independence and bemoaning the slow pace of payment on BP oil spill claims.
“Mr. Feinberg has been extremely responsive and expeditious in working through what is a tremendous amount of information and cases,” Jerrold Parker, with the national law firm of Parker Waichman LLP, told the Associated Press. “Given the complexity and enormity of this situation, I think Mr. Feinberg has done a tremendous job.”
Parker Waichman LLP is one of a group of law firms working together on BP oil spill claims, and according to the Associated Press, is close to a settlement with Feinberg on behalf of hundreds of clients. A final BP oil spill claims settlement between the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and the group is expected within days. According to a statement, Parker Waichman issued yesterday, the group, which also includes the Law Offices of Daniel E. Becnel, Jr. and Neblett, Beard & Arsenault LLP, has already recovered millions of dollars from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility on behalf of its clients.
The group is still available to help Gulf Coast property and business owners who have sustained significant lost income and reduced property values to their condominiums, hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, summer homes, office buildings, and other properties as a result of the BP oil spill. The statement also said that BP oil spill claims previously denied by the Gulf Coast Claims Center could be resubmitted to the group, and Parker Waichman and its partner firms would work to get legitimate claims reopened and reexamined.
Few claimants, however, have seen that kind of success in resolving BP oil spill claims, and they blame Feinberg. Many of them complained to the Associated Press that the claims process is “beset by red tape and delay.” So far, nearly 490,000 claims have been filed, and roughly half have been turned down. The fund has handed out $3.4 billion to 169,000 claimants. Most of those have been for emergency payments of short-term losses, and only two final payment claims have been resolved so far, the Associated Press said.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Feinberg acknowledged that the BP oil spill claims process was a slow one. He attributed the slow pace to the enormous amount of claims the Gulf Coast Claims Facility has received, but also to some “inflated or outlandish requests.” Those include at least one claim for the entire $20 billion in the fund, another from a boat captain who wanted reimbursement for himself and four non-existent deckhands, and another from a fisherman whose boat was actually unusable and dry-docked at the time of the spill, the Associated Press said.
But that explanation isn’t sitting well with many, who feel BP – which is paying Feinberg’s law firm a hefty monthly fee – might be influencing the payment process even though Feinberg insists he is independent. Critics’ skepticism over his independence was reinforced recently when it was discovered that one of the only two final payment claims resolved by the fund so far went to an unidentified BP associate. Feinberg admitted that he made the $10 million payment at the behest of the oil company and that he did not review it, though all other claims are subject to review. According to the Associated Press, Feinberg would not further explain why he handled this particular claim in that way.
Now, Feinberg is feeling the heat. According to the Associated Press, the Justice Department has urged Feinberg to speed up payments, reminding him in a recent letter that he is not there to save BP money. And earlier this month, the federal judge overseeing BP oil spill lawsuits in New Orleans ordered Feinberg to stop saying he is independent of BP.