Person of the Week: Kenneth Feinberg

ByABC News
August 30, 2004, 2:37 PM

Dec. 19, 2003 -- There is surely no single person who has been exposed to more grief in the aftermath of 9/11 than Kenneth Feinberg.

"I underestimated the emotion of this at the beginning. No question about that," said Feinberg. "I didn't fully appreciate how soon this program had been established after 9/11, so there was a certain degree of unanticipated anger directed at me that I should have been more attuned to."

A Washington lawyer, Feinberg was appointed to head the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which was established by the government to provide compensation to victims' families for lost wages, pain and suffering, and other monetary damages.

Participation requires, however, that family members waive their right to sue the airlines involved in the attacks and other potentially responsible entities.

When the program launched, many Sept. 11 families criticized it as a tightfisted effort to protect airlines from negligence claims that put insulting dollar values on the lives of loved ones.

Feinberg initially rubbed many families the wrong way, but he quickly learned to be more sensitive.

"I think the families changed, I changed, the American people changed. I think everybody evolved," said Feinberg. "I mean, there had never been anything like this."

Adding Insult to Injury

Feinberg had to estimate how much each victim would have earned in a full lifetime. Once a family accepts his offer, there is no appeal.

"It's a brutal, sort of cold, thing to do. Anybody who looks at this program and expects that by cutting a U.S. Treasury check, you are going to make 9/11 families happy, is vastly misunderstanding what's going on with this program," said Feinberg.

He added: "There is not one family member I've met who wouldn't gladly give back the check, or, in many cases, their own lives to have that loved one back. 'Happy' never enters into this equation."