Feinberg: Improving conditions a ‘new wrinkle’ in oil spill claims process
Feinberg is in charge of the independent Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which will take over the process on Monday. BP stopped accepting claims Wednesday.
Here are some important things to know about emergency claims:
- First, there are five categories of eligibility for emergency claims. They include any individual or business that had to pay for cleaning up oil or preventing oil from damaging their property; property damages; loss of profits; a loss from the inability to use natural resources that were damaged because of the spill; and physical injury or death.
- Second, claimants must prove “causation” in order to receive emergency payments. In other words, a claimant must prove a direct relationship between the spill and the loss. Claims will be evaluated based on “geographic proximity, nature of industry, and dependence upon injured natural resources,” according to the protocol.
- Third, claims officers will apply a “less rigorous standard for required corroboration” under emergency payments than final payments, the protocol says.
- Fourth, most claims will be processed and authorized within 48 hours. “Complex” business claims will be processed within seven days.
- Fifth, “request or receipt of emergency advance payment does not waive any rights,” the protocol says.
- Sixth, all claims will be subject to a review to detect fraud. This review includes analyzing claims for “inconsistencies, irregularities and duplication,” “periodic quality control audits,” and review by an “independent outside accounting firm” to ensure that claims have been “accurately processed.” In addition, all claimants will have to sign a form verifying the accuracy of the claim.
Speaking in Pensacola earlier this week, Feinberg noted a “new wrinkle” in how those criteria will be applied: Conditions along Florida’s Gulf Coast seem to be improving.
“When I first came to Florida, disaster!” he said. “You can’t fish. You can’t swim. … Oil’s everywhere. It’ll be years. We’ll never recover. Now I see the president’s coming down. I see that they’ve opened up the shrimp grounds yesterday, and the fishing grounds are largely open, and now I’m reading in the newspaper, people are returning to the gulf. That’s why I’ve gotta listen to you guys. I don’t know.”
“Every day that goes by, I’m saying to myself, ‘Looks like it’s getting better,’” he added.
That raises questions about why tourism may be down, or why businesses are losing money, he said. Is it a direct consequence of the spill?
“The GCCF will only pay for harm or damage that is proximately caused by the Spill,” according to the protocol.
It would be “relatively easy” to determine claimants’ eligibility in the area along the coast between Pensacola and Panama City, Feinberg said.
But what about a seafood distributor east of Panama City who received a catch, but couldn’t sell all of it? Or businesses that rely indirectly on gulf tourism? Or fishers who can access the newly opened fisheries, but are wary of spending money on fuel and supplies, when they may not catch what they used to?
“What do you mean you can’t fish for six months? Your compatriots are out there fishing now. I’m reading it in the newspaper,” Feinberg said, role-playing a conversation with a fisherman.
“We’ll try and help you every way we can,” he said, and pledged to listen to locals to try to understand the spill’s ongoing effects.
The program is voluntary, he emphasized, and will be as “claimant-friendly” as possible. Claimants who aren’t satisfied with the compensation they were offered are welcome to exercise their other options (meaning they can feel free to sue BP).
The fund will be open to six-month emergency claims from Aug. 23 to Nov. 23, and Feinberg said individual claims will be turned around in 48 hours, while “more complicated” business claims could take a week.
Listen to the full audio of Feinberg’s visit, from NewsRadio 1620 in Pensacola: