In an interview this week with Andrew Restuccia, oil spill claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg sheds more light on the problems with the claims process.
In addition to removing the geographic requirement for claims eligibility, Feinberg says he may accept interim payments in short-term increments rather than forcing claimants to accept a single final payment. This was a key concern raised by state Attorney General Bill McCollum in his most recent letter to Feinberg.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, whose chairman Keith Overton was central in lobbying Feinberg for the removal of geography as a requirement for eligibility, has been dispatching lawyers around the state to inform members far from the spill but still dependent on tourism that they are eligible to file claims.
At a briefing by the association Tuesday in Gainesville, Clay Townsend, co-owner of Dixie Crossroads seafood restaurant in Titusville, said he didn’t think he’d be eligible until he received a letter from the hospitality group this week announcing the changes.
As of Tuesday, 63 claims have been filed from Brevard County (where Dixie Crossroads is located) and only 11 have been paid, out of a statewide total of 36,663 claims.
Townsend said business is down more than $300,000 this year due to fewer tourists visiting the state and a shortage of Florida rock shrimp, his restaurant’s specialty, during the crucial summer months. He’s had to cut his employees’ hours back, he added.
Ned McWilliams of the law firm Levin Papantonio, which was chosen by the hospitality asociation to assist with the claims process, said Townsend’s employees likely have a claim, along with most businesses around the state that directly rely on tourism, but it remains unclear how “directly” will be defined and where, exactly, the lines will be drawn.
As before, that will depend on the competing interpretations of “proximate cause” doctrine, a legal term meaning that the losses would not have occurred “but for the spill,” McWilliams said. Those interpretations will wind up being contested by whoever winds up on the wrong side of the line separating paid claimants from unpaid.
Claims paid by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which Feinberg oversees, crossed the $1 billion mark on Tuesday. Of that, Florida has received more than a third — nearly $336 million.