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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Putting A Price On Human Life, Again

Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg speaks on June 30, 2014, in Washington, D.C., laying out the details of the compensation program he is administrating for General Motors to pay victims and their families that were affected by defective ignition switches. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg speaks on June 30, 2014, in Washington, D.C., laying out the details of the compensation program he is administrating for General Motors to pay victims and their families that were affected by defective ignition switches. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Attorney Ken Feinberg is again doing a job that he wishes he didn’t have to do: putting a price tag on the loss of others’ loved ones.

A man well versed in tragedy, Feinberg is overseeing the compensation fund for deaths and injuries from accidents that resulted from a defective ignition switch in General Motors vehicles. There have been at least 13 documented deaths linked to that problem. People who accept compensation agree not to sue GM.

Rosie Cortinas of Caldwell, Idaho, whose son Amador Cortinas was killed in a GM vehicle accident, wipes tears as she listens during a news conference June 30, 2014. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rosie Cortinas of Caldwell, Idaho, whose son Amador Cortinas was killed in a GM vehicle accident, wipes tears as she listens during a news conference June 30, 2014. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Feinberg is the go-to attorney when it comes to compensation funds. He mediated the 1984 class action lawsuit brought by 250,000 Vietnam War veterans against the manufacturers of Agent Orange, and oversaw the compensation funds for 9/11 victims, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the 2012 Aurora movie theater mass shooting and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Each time he has listened to the emotional outpouring of families who have lost a loved one.

“People rarely want to talk about money,” Feinberg told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “They want to do two things. First, ‘Mr. Feinberg I’m coming to see you to vent about life’s unfairness. What did I ever do to lose my daughter?’ Or they come to validate the memory of a lost loved one. ‘Mr. Feinberg, you never met my daughter. She was just wonderful. I want to show you a photograph album. I want to show you her report card.’”

Feinberg calls the process “agonizing” but he keeps saying yes to overseeing programs connected to tragedy.

“It is something you have to do as part of a program like this,” he said. “I believe in public service. I think there are millions of Americans that would do what I would do if they were asked to do it. So I do it.”

Guest

  • Ken Feinberg, attorney and administrator of the fund to compensate victims of defective ignition switches in GM cars.

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  • RAOUL

    Ken Feinberg must be the most wealthiest attorney on planet earth!! It’s time to break the Feinberg monopoly of raking in huge profits for Ken Fienberg from natural and man made disasters on planet earth and let more god fearing attorneys to get in on the action.

    • The_Truth_Seeker(TM)

      “most wealthiest”?

      You want want to go with just “wealthiest”, or “most wealthy”, but in any case, he might just be ONE, of the many who are!

      • Raoul

        Actually the most wealthy in Europe three years ago were Italian Attorneys. – these people are a menace to planet earth.

  • Duane_Dibbley

    I wonder what Ken’s cut of the settlement will be?

    • The_Truth_Seeker(TM)

      Good point, but in the 9/11 case he took no money (I believe). Besides, pretty sure GM will be paying his fee.

      • RAOUL

        There is a great chasm between believe, knowing and the truth.

    • RAOUL

      Ask the people of Louisiana (shrimpers and shrimp companies) what they think about Ken Feinberg post BP spill actions including the present conditions of gulf shrimping. it ain’t pretty!

  • The_Truth_Seeker(TM)

    What about also providing a HUGE punitive damage award as well (with or without GM’s approval)? After all, GM KNEW these parts were defective and causing deaths. They are criminally liable too! The punitive damage award (in, or out of court), should be AT LEAST 10x the P&S offers. The awards should, in part, PUNISH GM as well, not just get them to do the right thing NOW!

  • HoBro

    Actually, I believe that most of the roles Feinberg has fulfilled, e.g., the 911 Victims Fund, Va Tech, Aurora CO, etc., have been unpaid. I believe he has been paid only when it is a private party, e.g., GM and BP, footing the bill, and they are essentially paying his fees, not the public or the victims. I recommend Feinberg’s book, “Who Gets What?”, in which he sets forth in detail all of these cases.

  • The_Truth_Seeker(TM)

    What about a price on “criminal negligence”, that caused hundreds (at least) to suffer – needlessly!?

  • sosus

    Whenever conversations involve all the many ramifications of 9/11, I always ask others if they read Kenneth Feinberg’s book, “What Is Life Worth: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Fund…” but I have never come across anybody else who read it. I read it when it came out but think it might be out of print now, not sure. I thought that whole process of distributing money to people after the 9/11 attacks and how those decisions were made and how that process was arrived at was fascinating and was, in my opinion, one of the very most important aspects of the whole 9/11 set of events. Yet nobody was talking about it and it is rarely mentioned in any discussions of 9/11. Today, Mr. Feinberg touched on the process in general as he again plays the role of “special master” in claims from victims of GM automotive failings. That process, vis a vis 9/11, seems to encompass the puzzles and politics and manipulations and emotions and crassness and unknowns of the U.S. government’s response to the 9/11 attacks. It seems to be a whole area that is strange and mysterious, unprecedented, and unexamined in any full sense. Where are the scholars and historians, the political scientists, the ethicists?? I thought it might come to the fore when Mr. Feinberg played the same kind of role following the BP-Halliburton massive oil-pollution of the Gulf, but it didn’t. Now, as BP is making known their intentions of getting back their money, maybe this process that Mr. Feinberg is so intimately involved with in these huge disasters will get full analysis and evaluation, especially the 9/11 episode and the money paid.

  • unkejray

    “doing a job that he wishes he didn’t have to do”

    So, who’s twisting his arm?

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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