November 2, 2012

BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The September 11th terror attacks.  Virginia Tech campus shootings. The 2008 financial crisis.  All sudden disasters with a multitude of  victims. All handled by Kenneth Feinberg.  Will the recent weather event in the northeast precipitate a Feinberg engagement?

Kenneth Feinberg has become the go-to guy for overseeing settlement payouts in the wake of massive disasters.  After building a reputation with Agent Orange compensation to our military veterans, he was brought in to manage the 9/11 compensation fund and later the mass shootings fund at Virginia Tech. He was engaged to make payment decisions for loss of life or the quality of life as a result of these tragedies.

Feinberg also determined the “highly compensated executive salaries” that the US Government became involved in when Wall Street firms received bailout money.  And beginning in 2010, the BP oil spill has been a Feinberg project to evaluate economic loss with “everything from the price of shrimp that won’t be caught to hotel rooms that won’t be occupied” (

In his 2012 book, Who Gets What Feinberg talks about a main premise at the core of his successful completion of these highly emotional and tragedy-rooted decisions. As a young lawyer in the 1970’s, Feinberg joined Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff and began working closely with (now Supreme Court Justice) Stephen Breyer. Breyer told him, “The goal is to foster transparency and a free exchange of ideas. Our word is our best weapon”.

Working on the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill compensation claims, Feinberg began holding many town meetings in the Gulf States where he called for patience and accepted all blame for any shortcomings in the process.  Feinberg has always faced his situation head on and given honest answers.

In one interview CBS’s Morley Safer mentioned that the people really attack Feinberg when he visits. Feinberg responded,

They do, but it goes with the territory. I mean, you go in there expecting that you’re gonna receive that criticism. And woe be unto you if you hide. That is a mistake. You cannot hide. “

Our first instincts are often to hide when times get tough.  Feinberg works in situations full of uncertainty, frustration, grief and anger.  He models a strong leadership stand of engagement, telling the truth as he knows it and engaging with people, front and center, continuously having the hard conversations. And he completes these projects in record time. He is committed to helping others and notes that while he may not be perfect, making these decisions as courts typically do, slowly, spanning decades, is the worst outcome for those involved.

Feinberg is trusted with these tough situations because he is fair, upfront, and tells it like it is.  He is also committed to a culture of no surprises and ensuring clarity which drives the velocity of decisions.

Will he be called in for the settlement of any Super Storm Sandy issues?