Bethesda resident Kenneth Feinberg has become synonymous with victim compensation funds. The local lawyer has been tapped to distribute donated money for tragedies such as 9/11, the Virginia Tech shooting, and the BP oil spill; work that has given him the moniker “master of disaster.”
Last year, then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick selected him to distribute The One Fund Boston—the compensation fund for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Feinberg said in a phone interview that he wouldn’t be in Boston for this year’s marathon, but that he would watch with “great respect and encouragement.”
“We distributed in 60 days $61 million to 240 victims in the bombings, and that ended my role,” Feinberg said.
He said he was amazed by the amount of money the public donated for bombing victims, and that he believes Menino and Patrick played integral roles. First, he said, they made the decision to establish one charity to receive all contributions.
“Secondly, they decided to play a very active role in seeking contributions,” Feinberg said. “Instead of stepping back and just watching, they each got on a soapbox and encouraged people to contribute to One Fund. That had a tremendous effect nationwide. Over 10,000 donors contributed $61 million in the first 60 days.”
By comparison, the Sandy Hook, Conn., victims’ fund received $7.8 million in donations, the Virginia Tech fund received $7 million and the Aurora, Colo., fund received $5 million.
“One Fund, $61 million,” Feinberg said. “I’m stunned by the generosity of the American people.”
To compensate victims of the bombing, Feinberg used a formula based on the length of their hospital stays and a sliding scale based on the severity of injuries.
Feinberg, who most recently was tapped by General Motors to head a compensation fund connected to injuries and deaths linked to faulty ignition switches, said he enjoys his work, though it’s often “debilitating” and “emotional.”
As for his nickname, he brushes it off.
“I’m not a master; I’m an individual American citizen,” Feinberg said. “[My work] doesn’t require a college degree or a law school degree; it requires sensitivity, compassion and empathy.”