Critics: BP oil spill claimants may be getting less than deserved

Bob Jones, executive director of the six-state Southeastern Fisheries Association, told the Florida legislature on Tuesday that the process for making compensation claims in relation to the Gulf Oil Spill is too slow, lacks transparency and may amount to a game of chance.

The process examined by the legislature this week is the administration of economic-damage claims growing out of the aftermath of the oil spill, as opposed to personal injury, workers’ compensation and wrongful death claims arising from the oil rig accident itself or from cleanup operations.

Similar oil spill claims being treated differently, Jones contends

According to Jones, only around a third of the economic damage claims have been settled, and many fishing businesses are unhappy with the settlements they have received. In many cases, Jones says, claimants brought in detailed documentation of their losses but received compensation for only about a quarter of their losses.

Worse, some people with virtually identical claims may be receiving different settlement amounts. He pointed to three fishermen from Apalachicola who filed identical claims. Two received $5,000, while the third got $25,000.

“Whoever was lucky enough to get the right claims adjuster got the bigger claim,” Jones asserted, “I can’t prove that. It’s just what we observe.”

Part of the problem is that the system lacks transparency, Jones pointed out, which keeps people in the dark about whether they’re being treated the same as others with similar claims. “It’s a closed process – you can’t find out what others are being paid.”

Florida State Senator Bill Montford, whose district encompasses an area ranging from Tallahassee to Panama City, called for the State Agriculture Committee to summon BP claims czar Ken Feinberg to respond to the complaints. Montford said that desperate constituents contact him daily about problems with the claims process.

“Time is running out,” Montford said. “People are hungry, and I don’t like the way they are being treated.”

Jones seconded that call. “I’d like to see them call Mr. Feinberg in here, to provide quantifiable information that he’s doing a better job than we think he is.”

Feinberg is already under fire. Last week, the claims czar met with Fort Walton Beach residents and faced harsh questioning. In a meeting with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, he insisted that he is doing the best he can.

Of the $20 billion compensation fund the Obama Administration forced BP to set up after theoffshore accident and oil spill, $3 billion has been paid out to people who suffered economically after the historic environmental disaster. $1.3 billion of that has been paid out to Florida residents, Feinberg says.

Source: Pensacola News Journal, “Sen. calls oil spill claims process game of chance,” Bill Cotterell, January 26, 2011