How experts plan to help Pa. dioceses navigate victim compensation
All but one of the seven Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, along with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, are trusting a Washington, D.C.-based law firm led by Kenneth Feinberg to administer compensation funds to survivors of sexual abuse.
The name might sound familiar: Feinberg administered the fund Penn State University set up to compensate young men sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky along with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
He and Camille Biros, the firm’s business manager, already manage compensation programs across five dioceses in New York.
“They’ve proven to have success,” Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh said of Feinberg and his firm. “That’s why, when we looked at their record, we thought that this was the best way to go.”
Feinberg himself offered a similar explanation as to how he became the go-to person for determining how people are compensated in the wake of tragedy.
“I think our success rate — I think they come back to us — they did it before so they can do it again,” he said.
His work settling a class action suit brought by 250,000 veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam was the starting point for his career as a mediator, Feinberg wrote in his 2012 book, “Who Gets What.”
The suit was settled in 1984 as the eight chemical company defendants agreed to pay out $180 million, plus interest, to resolve the litigation.
“My new professional niche was ensured,” he wrote in his book.
The Brockton, Mass. native attended the University of Massachusetts and New York University Law School, and clerked for Stanley H. Fuld, chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. He spent three years as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City and served as special counsel to the Senate judiciary committee led by Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Among the connections forged in Feinberg’s early years as a lawyer was one with Jack B. Weinstein, a fellow Fuld clerk who went on to serve as federal district judge in Brooklyn, Feinberg wrote. It was Weinstein who called on Feinberg to mediate the Agent Orange suit.
Feinberg went on to mediate several high-profile cases that came through Weinstein’s courtroom, including those related to asbestos-related illnesses.
Soon after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Feinberg was appointed to serve as the administrator for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He was in charge of determining both eligibility as well as calculating damages for claims paid out to those who lost family members or who were injured.
The fund paid $7 billion to 5,500 claimants.
“Emotionally, that one was probably the most difficult,” Biros said.
Biros is also the president and treasurer of Strategic Settlement Advisors, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based company that works in conjunction with Feinberg’s practice to carry out civil litigation settlements.
Along with Feinberg, Biros has worked as an administrator on compensation claims programs including One Fund Boston and the Aurora, Colorado Victim Relief Fund.
Such funds are typically overseen by a small team that conducts several levels of review, she said.
“We like to keep it rather small so that we can ensure consistency in the way they’re evaluated and reviewed,” she said of the process for evaluating claims and conducting meetings with victims.
Planning and executing diocesan compensation funds has been challenging for different reasons, Feinberg said. It’s emotional, challenging work.
“It’s astounding as to the number of claims we’ve seen in New York and Pennsylvania,” he said. “And it is amazing to us how there are claimants who want maybe more than money — to be heard. To tell their story.”
Camille Birros and Kenneth Feinberg, administrators of the compensation fund, during a press conference announcing the details of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, on Dec. 13, 2018. Photo: Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
2001: September 11th Victim Compensation Fund
Congress established the fund to distribute tax-free to the victims and families of the 5,500 people who died or were injured. Feinberg was appointed “Special Master” of the fund by the U.S. Attorney General and took the job pro bono.
Number of claims: 5,500 claimants representing the dead and physically injured
Total amount paid: $7 billion; average compensation of $2 million per family who lost a loved one, an average of $400,000 per person experiencing injury.
2010: Gulf Coast Claims Facility
Claims compensation program following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig explosion.
Number of claims: Over 1.2 million claims
Total amount paid: $6.5 million
2012: Penn State University
Number of claims: Feinberg served as a mediator in the resolution of over 30 cases
Total amount paid: Over $109 million to an unspecified number of victims, according to the most recent Penn State fiscal reports
2013: One Fund Boston
Following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Feinberg administered a fund, pro bono, that distributed aid to victims and families over its 20-month lifespan.
Number of claims: Feinberg handled 259 claimants
Total amount paid: Nearly $80 million
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.
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