NEW ORLEANS (CN) - During an oil spill status conference Friday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier told a BP attorney he had heard complaints that people are not getting answers about claims they submitted through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which is overseen by BP-appointed claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg. BP attorney Don Haycraft assured the judge that Feinberg has said that claims protocols will "expand and improve."
"Is there a time frame for people to be told: 'Yes, you are getting paid,' or, 'No, you are not getting paid'?" Barbier asked Haycraft.
Haycraft said that Congress had asked Feinberg that very question just the day before, and testified that "claims protocols are going to continue to expand and improve."
Haycraft said that 470,943 claims have been filed through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility: 395,000 from individuals, and 85,870 from businesses. He said claimants have been paid $3.3 billion.
Haycraft said he thought most claims that have been denied were denied because claimants lacked complete documentation. He added that the number of claims denied for insufficient documentation has decreased since the last status conference.
Judge Barbier said the complaints he has heard don't have to do so much with denied claims as with claimants simply not getting answers.
Barbier said again that he wondered about a timeframe during which claimants could expect to hear back from Feinberg.
Haycraft responded: "I read the newspaper as well, and from what I understand, thousands of people are being paid."
During a closed meeting Friday with a select audience in St. Bernard Parish, just outside New Orleans, , Feinberg reportedly "he has become accustomed to 'walking into the lion's den'" when he holds public meetings, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Public meetings with Feinberg in Louisiana at the beginning of January devolved into angry criticism from frustrated people who say they are not being paid through the claims process.
A frequent criticism of the Feinberg-administered claims process is that people on the periphery of the group hardest hit by the oil spill, such as waiters and bartenders, are being paid, while fishermen continue to wait for checks from BP.
Feinberg told the Homeland Security Committee's Disaster Recovery Subcommittee in Washington on Thursday that he would post his claims facility's new methodologies for calculating interim and final payments by Tuesday.
The claims process was established, in part, for those who would rather not litigate.
Texas attorney Tony Buzbee, who is overseeing 15,000 oil-spill cases, said in a statement Friday that he has met with Feinberg repeatedly and expects to resolve a significant number of his cases this week.
Buzbee said he believes Feinberg and his claims process should be given a chance to work.
"If it doesn't, we will litigate," Buzbee said.
BP attorney Andrew Langan Friday told the court there are about 349 active cases before Judge Barbier in New Orleans Federal Court.
But Barbier said that number is "a bit deceiving." He said there are hundreds of cases, but thousands of claims.
By filing a short-form joinder
, people can join the litigation whether they have an attorney or not, the judge said.
Judge Barbier was chosen in August to oversee the bulk of oil spill claims in New Orleans Federal Court as part of a consolidated multi-district litigation.
The next status conference is set for Feb. 25 at 9:30 am.