Florida assesses fallout, claims in BP spill

A young seagull rests on boom used to contain the oil spill in Barataria Bay, La.

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Governor Charlie Crist kicks off a special session of the Florida legislature today. Lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to ban drilling in state waters. Meanwhile, Kenneth Feinberg, the man overseeing BP's $20 billion compensation fund, is preparing rules on what makes claims legitimate. As reporter Jay Field tells us from Pensacola, Feinberg has some tough decisions to make.


Jay Field: Florida officials are studying the economic fallout from the spill. And late last month, Darryl Willis, the BP guy in the orange polo shirt who's on TV alot, showed up to answer their questions. Mostly, though, he got a lecture.

Mario De Gennaro: We're very fortunate that we do not have oil on our beaches. Where we are not fortunate, as you know, is the media and the negativity.

Commissioner Mario Di Gennaro pulled out an informal survey of more than 200 hotels and other businesses in the Florida Keys. He says bookings are way down. So do these businesses, hurt by perception more than reality, have a right to some of that BP cash? Florida law, Kenneth Feinberg recently told a congressional committee, is clear:

Kenneth Feinberg: If there's no physical damage to the beaches and it's public perception, I venture to say that it's not compensable.

But Feinberg himself mentioned one possible solution in recent House testimony. Cordon off a geographic area and compensate businesses there that say perception has damaged them. Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 Fund, used a similar approach to pay victims for respiratory damage from the collapsing towers.

But torts expert Marshall Shapo, at Northwestern University law school, says the 9/11 model may not work:

Marshall Shapo: Here you have a much more fluid environment, from a legal point of view. Because you're talking about so many different categories of people. And it's not nearly as neatly defined as it was in the 9/11.

What about the restaurant 50 miles inland that says business is off because people won't order Gulf seafood? Or the caterer that has less convention business than usual in Tampa Bay? Feinberg says the money is limited and he's going to have to draw the line someplace.

In Pensacola, Fla., I'm Jay Field for Marketplace.

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