Public policy
Fair Compensation After Tragedy and Financial Upheaval

By Kenneth R. Feinberg

PublicAffairs. 216 pp. $26.99

When bad things happen to good people — the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — good people want to get paid. In “Who Gets What,” lawyer and master of disaster Kenneth R. Feinberg dissects the complicated business of settling claims after calamity.

“To evaluate the value of a life or a livelihood, I must first tackle a set of far bigger philosophical questions,” writes Feinberg, who helped compensate the victims of hijacker Mohamed Atta, Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho and polluter British Petroleum without drawn-out litigation. One such questions is “Why should public or private money be used to compensate certain citizens while denying similar generosity to others?”

This “lawyer and mediator in one” began his career working pro bono to obtain compensation for Vietnam veterans hurt by Agent Orange. Thirty years later, his law firm earned millions helping BP settle Deepwater Horizon claims, though trial lawyers and some would-be clients have argued that Feinberg settled for too little. He believes, however, that “though existing law may be capable of addressing these tragedies . . . sometimes the public’s outrage demands more.” Litigation can be “too complex, too time-consuming, too inefficient, or too uncertain.” In other words: “Business as usual will not do.”

’Who Gets What’ by Kenneth Feinberg. (PublicAffairs Books)

A glance at recent headlines may indicate a long shelf life for Feinberg’s book — who will compensate the victims of Jerry Sandusky? “Who Gets What” indeed.

— Justin Moyer