By Amy McCullough
JACKSON — BP oil spill claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg told a packed audience at Mississippi College law school symposium today that his job is not an easy one.
Feinberg said people ask him if he finds his law degree useful in handling the claims process. “Sometimes I think a divinity degree would be more helpful,” he said.
A warm, candid and humorous Feinberg was introduced by MC Law School Dean Jim Rosenblatt as the “master of disasters.”
Feinberg, who received accolades for handling funds for 9/11 victims, said, “You’re only as good as your last assignment. … This is tough, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. In less than six months we have processed 500,000 (claims). We have distributed $3.6 billion to 170,000. … I’ve never had a volume problem like Gulf Coast Claims Facility.”
Special Funds Raise Philosophical Problems
Feinberg said that claims processing facilities — like the Agent Orange fund for Vietnam veterans, the 9/11 fund, the Virginia Tech memorial fund and the BP fund – are “unique responses to unprecedented disasters” that “should remain very rare.”
He advised people to be careful when tinkering with the American adversarial legal system. “I think the traditional way that we resolve disputes in the court room works,” he said.
Special funds raise all sorts of philosophical problems. “Is it sound public policy to set up these programs?” Feinberg asked.
With the 9/11 fund, an average of $2 million was distributed to the families of almost 3,000 victims. Feinberg said he received e-mails, such as, “Dear Mr. Feinberg, My son died in Oklahoma City. Where’s my check?” he said. Parents of U.S. soldiers killed in terrorist attacks also wrote letters.
Special funds are set up when Americans have deep emotional responses to certain tragedies, Feinberg said, yet there are innocent people who face tragedies every day who are not compensated. “I’ve struggled with this,” he said.
Feinberg believes the 9/11 fund was a good idea. “It brought out the best in Americans. But don’t ever do it again. … From the perspective of the country, you can justify it,” he said.