BP claims administrator assures crowd: "I work for the people of - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

BP claims administrator assures crowd: "I work for the people of the gulf coast"

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - Telling the crowd, "I'm here to work for the people of the Gulf Coast", attorney Ken Feinberg spoke to several hundred at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum Convention Center on Friday morning.

He's the lawyer appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee distribution of the $20 billion in BP claims money.

The straight-talking Feinberg explained the claims process and answered lots of questions.

"I am not a government official. I am not working for the administration, for the president. I am most certainly not working for BP," Feinberg told the crowd, while assuring them the claims process will be an independent endeavor.

The often-animated attorney told the crowd they'd be "crazy" not to file a claim, if eligible.  People with legitimate claims will be given lump sum checks for six months:  no strings attached.

"If you want one check, lump for six months, once you are proven eligible and can prove your case, here's your check. You don't sign away any single right you may have against BP in court. None," said Feinberg.

Many of the questions came from realtors.

"If we are able to prove that a sale was lost, was under contract and lost due to the spill, is it possible for us to be compensated for our lost commissions?" said realtor, Ken Austin.

"It's a tough, tough one. And we'll continue to think about it. I can't give you a definitive answer. I won't say no. I urge you to file the claim and we'll have to just work our way through this," the attorney administrator replied.

Bobby Williams has run a charter boat fishing business for three decades.  He got questions from the claims office in Louisiana.

"I have my cancelled trips. Names. The contracts that I lost this year. And they're saying, well, just 'cause it's on the letterhead, how do we know that it's right?" Williams asked Feinberg.

"It sounds to me like we've got somebody back in Hammond that's a little gun shy and we've got to get that claim resolved and get it resolved quickly," said the claims administrator.

Although Feinberg says all "legitimate" claims will be paid; don't expect a check for "mental anguish" caused by the oil.

"Just like the 9-11 fund, if we started paying for anxiety and stress, I can see people in Idaho filing a claim saying, "Gee, I've been watching on CNN and I'm all nervous. I can't get out of bed," he said with a smile.

Along with his current assignment, Feinberg also oversaw distribution of the 9-11 victims fund and the compensation program following the shooting deaths at Virginia Tech.

Although the government required BP to set aside $20 billion for claims, Feinberg told the crowd that BP has also agreed to pay any legitimate obligations that may exceed that amount.

Charter boat captains are among those who've lost plenty of business due to the oil spill.  Several brought questions and concerns to the forum.

"Are they going to pay what we're actually losing? And most of the boats are running close to 100 thousand dollars. Because we're dead for the year," said Captain Tom Becker, chairman of the charter boat captains association.

"If you're able to show that you're actually losing, here are my cancelled contracts for example, we lost these charter boat, here it is. Seems to me that's proof that you ought to be paid what you're actually losing," Feinberg replied.

Realtors and real estate brokers also shared concerns.

"Both as a business and for our agents that are independent contractors, may they also file what you're talking about as a business loss claim form?" asked realtor, Ray Gonzales.

"There are lots of reasons deals fall through. It's not just oil. The seller dies, I don't know, God forbid. So, those are some of the issues and all I can say to the brokers and realtors: You are a formidable force in the gulf. I'm hearing this in a good many places," said the straight talking attorney.

Feinberg told realtors their losses are much more difficult to determine, compared to shrimpers, fishermen and charter boat captains.

But he promised to seriously consider the question of lost commissions from cancelled transactions.

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