Kenneth Feinberg, the independent paymaster who is managing the BP claims process, said on Monday that he would no longer consider proximity to the oil spill in determining whether a claim is eligible for payment.
"I have concluded that a geographic test to determine eligibility regarding economic harm due to the oil spill is unwarranted,” Feinberg said in a statement.
Feinberg's decision came after discussions with top Florida politicians who urged him to revise his criteria for payments. Feinberg said that he settled on the latest changes after hearing from "elected officials in Florida, including Gov. 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."
The decision is particularly beneficial to hotels and restaurants in southern Florida that claimed losses due a decline in tourism although oil had not washed up on their beaches. Some elected officials have interpreted Feinberg’s announcement as an acknowledgement that perceptions resulting from the spill are a legitimate source of damages, a policy that would open the door to wide variety of new claims.
"Even in areas that never saw a single tar ball, businesses were hurt by the perception of oil on Florida's beaches, seafood and coastal waters," Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida said in a statement.
Feinberg stopped short of endorsing this standard, but said that if a claimant can prove that losses were caused by the spill, then "physical proximity from the spill will not, in and of itself, bar the processing of legitimate claims."