Support the news
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
In so many American tragedies, from the attacks of Sept. 11 to the Boston Marathon bombings, victims who survive and the families of those who don't are offered compensation. And when it comes time to figure out who should be compensated and how much, time and time again, Kenneth Feinberg's phone rings.
A big part of his job is figuring out how much money to distribute to whom. "You do the best you can," he tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "You build on what you've done before, and you try and allocate using rough justice. How much of the available funds will be allocated to the dead, to the physically injured in the hospital, to the physically injured not in the hospital, to those suffering purely mental trauma? And you try and do the best you can with what you've got."
It's a "very stressful" calculation, he admits. "But the stress that you have in a back room, deciding who gets what, is nothing like the stress you confront when you meet each eligible claimant."
The toughest part of this job, without hesitation, is confronting people with these terrible losses and trying to explain to them, unsuccessfully, that all I'm here to do is offer you some financial stability, some cash. A very poor substitute for a lost loved one.Kenneth Feinberg
And the claimants' stories stick with him. Feinberg recalls visiting a victim of the Boston bombings in the hospital, and telling him he'd receive $1.2 million for his injury. Feinberg remembers the injured man replied, "Give me my leg back. You can keep the money. Give me my leg back, that's what I want."
"And you try and explain — rather hollow, but you try and explain that you haven't got that power, or that I wish I did," says Feinberg. "All I can do — and it's small solace — is the compensation."
Join Our Sunday Conversation
Do you think it is right to compensate families financially for their losses in tragedies like 9/11 and the Boston bombings? Tell us on Weekend Edition's Facebook page or in the comment section below.