Fund for those to hurt by BP Gulf spill up and running

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A 20-billion dollar fund to compensate people who suffered financial damages from the BP oil spill got up and running Monday, amid worries from some potential claimants that the new system will pay them less than the money they're due.

The new Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) led by the Washington attorney Ken Feinberg, replaces a claims process that had been handled by BP.

The oil giant said earlier this month that it had paid out 368 million dollars before transferring responsibility for the claims process to the GCCF.

Feinberg who is charged with independently overseeing the new escrow fund set up by BP, in a statement Monday that his goal is to "help people on the path to rebuilding their lives."

He said he aims to quickly turn around individual, as well as business claims for emergency compensation related to the massive Gulf of Mexico spill.

"I want to make sure the people in the Gulf understand we will not let you go out of business or lose your home. The number one priority of the GCCF is to assist the people in the Gulf," said Feinberg.

The high power attorney has made a specialty of mediation law, and is a former administrator for Agent Orange claims stemming from the Vietnam War, as well as claim filed after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Feinberg added that claims can be filed over lost wages and profits, business interruption as well as personal injuries.

He said the fund will issue emergency six-month payment checks within 48 hours for individuals and seven days for businesses, "after receipt of the claim form and sufficient supporting documentation."

The GCCF was established in June as part of an agreement between the Obama Administration and BP to assist claimants in filing claims for costs and damages incurred as a result of the oil spill stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20.

Feinberg told members of Congress last week that he hopes to discourage claimants from using the courts to sue BP - a process he said is both labor and time-consuming.

"I don't want people going to court," Feinberg told the House Committee on Small Business.

"I want people coming to the fund. Why should a claimant spend five years in court ... and owe money to a lawyer rather than come into the Gulf Coast claims facility" and get a payment settled quickly and relatively easily, he said.

But Florida attorney general Bill McCollum on Friday sent a letter to Feinberg criticizing the claims protocol, saying that residents of his state and other Gulf Coast communities were likely to be worse off than they were when filing claims directly to BP - a process he described as deeply flawed, but preferable to the new procedures.

"The current process appears to be even less generous to Floridians than the BP process. Such an outcome is completely unacceptable," he said.

Among other shortcomings, McCollum, a Republican who is running to become Florida's governor, complained that the new protocol includes language requiring a claimant to show that his or her damages were "proximately caused" by the oil spill.

He said that is something not every establishment can do - especially those not directly on the Gulf but which might still have seen a fall-off in business.

"Although the leak has stopped, the Deepwater Horizon Spill is an ongoing environmental disaster, not a onetime event," McCollum wrote in his letter to Feinberg.

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