The lead attorneys for people and businesses suing BP over last year's Gulf oil spill want a federal judge to appoint a special master to oversee the claims process.
They said in court papers Monday that administrator Kenneth Feinberg has been too slow to process interim payments from the $20 billion fund that BP set up to compensate people who lost their livelihoods when crude oil gushed from BP's blown well. The payments are meant to tide people over until claims are settled.
The lawyers said BP and Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility have benefited from desperate victims who choose quick, one-time payments in exchange for promises not to sue. There was no immediate ruling by the court in New Orleans.
Last week, the Justice Department said an independent audit would be done to determine if claims are being processed appropriately.
Feinberg said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press that the GCCF has made interim payments to more than 20,000 claimants and that there are more than 40,000 final payment offers outstanding. He said some $250 million in interim payments have been made. Feinberg said the GCCF will respond to the court filing in "due course" but did not elaborate.
An AP review published in February that included interviews with legal experts, government officials and more than 300 Gulf residents found a claims process beset by red tape and delay, and at the center of it all a fund administrator whose ties to BP have raised questions about his independence. As of Monday, roughly $4.8 billion of the $20 billion has been paid out to 199,248 claimants.
Feinberg, the Washington lawyer who runs the fund and was lauded for his work overseeing the compensation fund for 9/11 victims, has insisted he is being fair.
He has acknowledged that the system is clogged by the sheer volume of oil spill claims, along with inflated or outlandish requests. More than a year after the disaster, complaints about the process continue. Despite those complaints, BP has argued repeatedly that it believes the payouts have been too generous, and it has prodded Feinberg to scale things back.
The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 men and leading to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The rig was owned by Transocean and was being leased by BP to drill the oil giant's well a mile beneath the sea.
Follow Harry R. Weber at http://www.facebook.com/HarryRWeberAP
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