Attorney Ken Feinberg is considered the world’s foremost expert on victim compensation, having set up compensation funds in response to high-profile tragedies like that of September 11, 2001, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook shooting and the Aurora movie theater shooting. Now Orlando has been added to that grim list after the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12. Feinberg has been acting as the administrator of the OneOrlando Fund, set up to collect donations to eventually distribute to the victims and the loved ones of the deceased.
Those funds will be distributed to those who need them by the end of September. On Thursday afternoon, a town hall was held at the Amway Center, at which Feinberg and other officials talked about the protocol for distributing the funds. The deadline for filing a claim for the funds is Sept. 12.
Feinberg, animated and charismatic before the crowd of victims and their loved ones, didn’t mince words – he’s here to help, but he wishes his help wasn’t needed at all.
“We have done too many of these compensation funds,” Feinberg said. “I would gladly not be here today. But tragedy has bought us to Orlando. Money is a very poor substitute for loss and injury and death. A check is hardly a substitute. But under the American system, money is what we have to give.”
The OneOrlando fund has amassed $23 million so far, and it isn’t done yet – the money is still coming, and there could be even more in it by the time the funds are eventually distributed.
Feinberg stated the funds would be distributed to those in four categories: the families of those killed in the Pulse shooting, those injured in the shooting and were hospitalized, those who were held hostage or trapped inside the building when the shooting was going on, and those who suffered mental trauma from the attack. The amount of money given out will be measured by the severity of which each person lost or suffered in the Pulse attack.
It was stressed that anyone filing a claim to get their compensation would have to have documented proof that they had been in the hospital, or documented proof that the police or the FBI had spoken to them in the wake of the attack.
The outline was simply that, Feinberg stressed – an outline, a draft which they hoped to work out the specifics through the town hall and revisions. Several speakers brought up ‘gray areas’ in the categories – what if someone had both mental trauma and a physical injury of some kind, or otherwise fit more than one category? What about those who the police didn’t get to right away?
Robin Maynard with Pulse of Orlando, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of the shooting, said there were more people than was initially apparent who had been inside the club at the time of the shooting, yet had not talked to law enforcement of any kind.
“They don’t feel worthy,” she told Orlando Rising after the event. “They feel like if they didn’t get shot, they’re not a victim.”
All of these things, Feinberg said, would have to be looked into on a case-by-case basis.
One particularly contentious issue in the wake of Pulse in particular, he said, is deciding who the primary recipient of the money will be in the case of a deceased loved one in the attack. There can only be one recipient, and multiple family members cannot all request money for the same deceased loved one.
Mai Fernandez with the National Center for Violent Crime said with same sex couples, there could be higher-than-usual competition with families as to who gets the money. Dealing with those who have next-of-kin living out of the state or in Puerto Rico may also be a thorny issue. And there may be those who try to defraud the fund by claiming to have been affected by the attack when they really were not.
In all cases, Feinberg said they would be meticulous in determining who gets the money. But everyone would get what was coming to them, he maintained – the most important thing, above all, was that people who needed the money got it in a timely manner.
Having jumped to the front line to help with so many tragedies, Feinberg said the most difficult part of all of them was the emotional impact it had on him – but that there was also a silver lining, too.
“You’re asked to do a job,” he said. “You get a call from the mayor and he says ‘we need help.’ But never underestimate the charity of the American people. $23 million in only that short time. If you have something you can add, you do it.”