Alternative Dispute Resolution

'Master of Disasters' Ken Feinberg -- Is He Changing the Course of Mass Tort Resolution?


Has Kenneth Feinberg become such a brand unto himself—at once unique and ubiquitous as the nation’s problem solver—that a truck running over him would end forever the Feinberg Way for mass-dispute resolution? Is he sui generis? Answers vary. Feinberg’s own suffices for the moment. He seems surprised when asked, which is saying a lot given how much press he gets. Feinberg stops fidgeting for brief seconds, suddenly still in a beige leather lounge chair at one end of his long, narrow office in the Willard Office Building, barely more than a block from the White House. A broad smile quickly curls up. “That’s an interesting question,” he says. “No one seems to be doing what I’m doing.”

That answer is perhaps more loaded than he intends. The role was created half for him, half by him. Feinberg has become the go-to guy for our national disasters and vexing problems, from Agent Orange to the Dalkon Shield, from the 9/11 fund to the Virginia Tech massacre; more recently he has been the pay czar for the financial bailout and now the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He is said to bring the wisdom of Solomon and, sometimes, the patience of Job in sorting through the unthinkable to compensate for loss.

But it’s more complex than that, as is Feinberg himself. Some question the impact these big settlement funds, usually launched in part to prevent or end litigation, might have on the civil justice system in general and tort law in particular. Interestingly, as an arbitrator and mediator for the most complex matters, Feinberg, 65, may or may not be in the top five among otherwise lesser-known names doing such work, depending on whom you ask.

Click link to continue reading “Master of Disasters” in the January issue of the ABA Journal.

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