On Wednesday, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility will process the last emergency payments for victims of the oil spill in the gulf. Starting Friday, the fund will begin paying final and interim payments, along with a third option detailed Monday by claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg.

Under the third option, which he called “quick pay,” any claimant who has received a dime from the facility will be able to file a claim for a set amount ($5,000 $25,000 for businesses and $25,000 $5,000 for individuals). Claimants opting for “quick pay” would have to waive their rights to sue BP, just like if they filed for a final claim, but they will not have to provide any additional documentation and would know from the outset how large their payment will be.

Feinberg said he wanted to see how many claimants voluntarily waived their right to sue, in exchange for a set payment. Thousands of claimants who received emergency payments but either can’t prove additional damages or who “just want to get on with their lives” may take this option, he said.

He outlined several other changes to the process:

  • Claimants would have access to free legal help, paid for by BP. “This is not somebody who will end up litigating in court,” he said. “There may be legal aid or somebody who will represent them, but that’s not on my watch.” Neither BP nor the claims facility would hold any sway over the lawyers’ advice, he said, adding that he’s seeking an ethical opinion to confirm whether it’s kosher for the company to pay the lawyers.
  • The claims facility will finally be dispatching teams of local people to help field questions from claimants, likely by next week. “I promised I would do this months ago,” Feinberg said, and too many claimants have been unable to get answers.
  • The methodology for evaluating final claims will be posted online and in local claims offices.

Feinberg also said he would consider outlining publicly what his guidelines for eligibility were. Inconsistencies have led to criticism of his operation, he acknowledged, and while it’s hard to set strict rules for how every claim will decided, he agreed it might be helpful to outline some basic standards.

He said he expects that by the end of this week, the fund will have paid around $2.5 billion to claimants, and will begin processing the 17,316 final claims already under review.

According to statistics from the facility, 463,795 claimants have filed, and roughly half (232,488) have been denied. Floridians appear to have been denied at a lower rate than claimants over all. Of 154,407 claims originating in Florida, 65,753 (43 percent) have been denied.

Can people denied under the emergency process expect better treatment as the process enters its next phase? Feinberg demurred. There’s nothing to prevent them from applying, he said, but there’s also no guarantee they’ll be found eligible.

Has your claim been denied? Did you receive an emergency payment, and are you considering whether to take the “quick pay” option? I’d be interested in hearing your story. Send me an email at travis(at)floridaindependent(dot)com.

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