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Read Justice Dept.'s Letter Criticizing Gulf Spill Czar's Final Claims Guidelines

Tomorrow, Gulf claims czar Kenneth Feinberg will release his protocol for evaluating final claims -- the lump sum settlements that are meant to cover all losses from the spill but require claimants to waive their right to sue BP. He will begin reviewing applications for final claims after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Department of Justice has reviewed an early draft of Feinberg's protocol, and on Nov. 19 Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli wrote to Feinberg expressing concerns about the proposed guidelines. He also urged Feinberg to improve his operation's transparency by offering a more detailed explanation of the principles that are used to decide claims. You can read Perrelli's letter, which we've posted in our document viewer.

Although we haven't yet seen Feinberg's final claims protocol, Perrelli's letter gives an early indication of what may become some of its most contentious provisions. Among the concerns raised by Perrelli:

  • Though claimants may continue to receive interim checks without releasing BP from liability after the Thanksgiving holiday, they may only receive these checks on a quarterly basis. Perrelli expressed concern that this could create financial hardship for claimants who are living from paycheck to paycheck, and called on Feinberg to continue offering monthly interim payments.
  • The release that claimants must sign to in order to receive final payments is overbroad, Perrelli believes. He wrote that its terms are "sufficiently vague that it suggests claimants have to release claims of spouses and business partners, even in situations where such a release is unfair or nonsensical."
  • Although it is not known what the appeals process in Feinberg's final protocol will be, Perrelli called on Feinberg to pay particular attention to the judges he selects to oversee it. He emphasized that these judges must "have the confidence of the people of the Gulf -- which will be much more likely when the judges themselves are from the Gulf region."

On Nov. 20, the day after receiving the letter, Feinberg told the AP that he was taking the associate attorney general's concerns seriously. "I think it's always wise to listen carefully to constructive criticism from the Department of Justice," Feinberg said. He indicated that one area he would seek to improve was providing more information to claimants. "They want me to improve transparency, and I plan to do so," he said.

You can read the rest of Perrelli's letter here, and we will keep you updated on the details of Feinberg's protocol for final claims from the Gulf oil spill.

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