Feinberg: Distance Not a Determining Factor in Paying Oil Spill Claims

BY Murrey Jacobson  October 4, 2010 at 8:41 PM EST

Since BP first announced it would establish a $20 billion fund to pay claims from the oil spill disaster along the Gulf Coast, one of the more vexing questions has been about what kind of role proximity to the disaster should play in the compensation decisions.

On Friday, Ken Feinberg, who’s overseeing the administration of the compensation fund, told us that he was leaning toward proximity as a factor in making his decisions, noting that he was getting sharp disagreement from state officials in Florida.

But Feinberg said Monday that distance from the affected spill area will not prevent claimants from applying for or receiving money if they can document their losses. Proximity has been a particularly difficult question in Florida since Feinberg has been receiving claims from the state’s Panhandle down to the Keys. A number of hotels have filed a claim for canceled reservations in locations like Tampa, for example, even though they were not especially close to the impacted area.

Feinberg did not commit to paying any specific claims in Florida or anywhere else for that matter. But he said proximity will not be a deciding factor.

“I have heard from elected officials in Florida, including Governor Crist, Attorney General McCollum, CFO Sink and others, about their concerns regarding Floridians’ proximity to the spill and how, regardless of distance, there has been economic impact beyond the areas closest to the spill,” Feinberg said in a statement. “After listening to these concerns, I have concluded that a geographic test to determine eligibility regarding economic harm due to the oil spill is unwarranted.”

So far, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, as Feinberg’s group is called, has paid nearly $1 billion to roughly 50,000 individuals and businesses.