The Gulf Coast Claims Facility will today begin accepting personal and business claims from those affected by BP's oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP stopped longer accepting claims last week, as the transition to the new entity was taking place. BP, which says it has paid out $375 million in claims so far, will continue to handle claims put in by government entities.

The $20 billion escrow account is controlled by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who told reporters yesterday he plans to be more generous than any court would be in determining payments.

"I take the position, if I won't find you eligible, I believe no court will find you eligible," Feinberg said. But if potential claimants don't like the offer the Gulf Coast Claims Facility makes, they can still file a lawsuit, although Feinberg advises against it.

"It is not in your interest to tie up you and the courts in years of uncertain, protracted litigation when there is an alternative that has been created," he said.

Claimants can apply in person at one of 35 offices set up in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida; by mail; or at www.gulfcoastclaimsfacility.com.

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