Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gulf Coast Claims Facility Viewed Suspiciously

Ken Feinberg at a town hall meeting in Bayou La Batre, Ala.
(Photo by Bill Starling/Courtesy of Press-Register)

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility is being viewed suspiciously

By Nicholas Moroni

As attorney Ken Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility officially takes over the BP claims process on Monday, August 23, some have adopted a precarious view of the operation.

Fisherman, restaurant owners, distributors, hotel owners, and other entities are cautiosuly approaching the claims process. Many are uncertain that the initial emergency payments and a final settlement with BP - after which the right to sue is waved - will cover long term damages. The unfortunate reality, however, is that many spill victims cannot finance a potentially lengthy legal battle with BP and its affiliates; subsequently, some are uneasily taking the initial payments, but are not entirely committed to settling.

"The conern is you're going to have people essentially being taken advantage of because they have economic straits - they get quick, low settlements and out of economic necessity they take them, but in the long run they are not better off," Stephen J. Herman, a New Orleans lawyer, told The New York Times.

Throughout the past two months, Feinberg has toured the Gulf region conducting town hall meetings in an attempt to promote the $20 billion escrow account set up by BP in June, which will be used to compensate spill victims. At one meeting in July, he told a congregation that anyone with a legitimate claim that opts out of a settlement is "crazy."

There are other causes for concern. BP's business affiliates (Transocean, Cameron, Halliburton, and others) that were involved - directly, or indriectly - in the April 20 sinking of the Deepwater Horizon are shielded, so claimants cannot file suit following a settlement. What's more, spill victims that have been receiving emergency payments from BP, or fisherman that were hired to spot oil and lay booms thorugh BP's Vessel of Opportunity program, will have their wages deducted from any payment.

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