Kenneth Feinberg helps marathon bomb victims get on with their lives
Ken Feinberg is used to not sleeping.
The Brockton native has met with thousands of victims of horrific tragedies, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and mass shootings at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.
Their stories of trauma, suffering and loss have kept Feinberg, a Washington attorney, up many nights.
“You remember so many,” Feinberg said last week in a phone interview with The Enterprise. “They’re very emotional, very angry, very distraught individuals and I don’t believe that anything in Boston will change that.”
Feinberg, 64, ran the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and other major victim compensation efforts. Now, he’s working for free to oversee a compensation fund for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino appointed Feinberg to run The One Fund Boston, the central fund to gather donations for bombing victims.
Feinberg said he is holding two town hall meetings this week to hear from the public. The meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Monday and at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Boston Public Library, he said.
He also said he would meet privately with victims, many of whom lost limbs when the bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line on April 15.
The explosions killed three people and wounded more than 260. An MIT police officer was later killed in a shootout with the bombing suspects.
“Brace yourself for the emotion,” he said of the victims. “Brace yourself.”
As in previous compensation efforts, Feinberg has the difficult task of determining how much the marathon victims and their families will receive.
Ask Feinberg how he compensates victims of major tragedies, and he’ll tell you: it’s not easy.
He peppered off a list of questions that he said help him create a blueprint for each major compensation effort.
First, Feinberg said he reviews how much money is available to distribute. The One Fund has raised about $28 million to date. Then, he determines who is eligible to receive the money.
“The physically injured who are hospitalized, what about mental trauma?” he asked. “What about property damage? What about outpatient treatment?”
Feinberg then calculates damages for each victim.
“Do the families of the four who died, do they all get the same, or does an 8-year-old get less than a 39-year-old wage earner?” Feinberg said.
He’s held thousands of meetings with victims, including 900 private, confidential meetings with victims and their families in administering the Sept. 11 fund.
He meets victims at their home or at his law offices in New York or Washington.
But “a lot of people don’t want to see me,” Feinberg said.
Half of the claimants in the Sept. 11 cases wanted to see him, the other half did not, he said. “In Virginia Tech, only four families out of 100 wanted to see me,” he said.
The victims, he said, “run the gamut in emotion – angry, frustrated, uncertain, disappointed, respectful, demanding.”
For this reason, Feinberg said he has a hard time leaving his work behind. At night, he listens to classical music to help counter the emotions of the day.
“It never is far from your mind,” he said. “It gnaws on you. You hope you’re doing the right thing. You don’t know. There’s not one answer. You don’t leave it behind.”
It is work that, in large part, Feinberg does pro bono. Of all his major compensation efforts, Feinberg said he only got paid for his work on the BP Gulf Coast cases.
He said he works 18-hour days listening to victims and their families, processing their claims, trying to sort out who gets what when it comes to monetary awards for physical injuries or death.
In Boston, victims will be required to show proof of injury related to the bombing. Feinberg said he’ll look for summaries attached to claim forms, for example, stating that a victim was hospitalized, and for how long, for injuries related to the bombing.
He awarded a total of $7 billion to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and $6.5 billion in the BP Gulf Coast cases. The biggest checks he awarded were BP Gulf Coast cases: about $45 million for a business claim and just under $20 million for a personal injury or death claim, he said.
At about $28 million, The One Fund has surpassed other compensation funds Feinberg has managed. He said he awarded $7 million for Virginia Tech victims and $5 million for the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo.
When asked why he is repeatedly chosen to administer funds for victims of mass casualties, Feinberg said, “I did it the last time successfully.”
What is troublesome about the Boston situation are the number of horrific physical injuries – several double- and single-amputees, he said.
“All the money in The One Boston Fund isn’t going to pay for one of those long-term needs over a lifetime,” he said. “I mean, it’s going to be very, very problematic.”
The final protocol and claim forms will be available on the fund’s website by May 15, and people will have a month to register. Feinberg, who has sole authority over the fund, said the money will be distributed to Boston victims by the end of June.
Feinberg wants this to be his last such assignment.
“When I do one of these, I hope it’ll be the last. It isn’t,” he said. “And then I hope that even if it’s not the last, that somebody else may get the call.”
Maria Papadopoulos may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MariaP_ENT.