To Ken Feinberg, if you lose both your legs, you're as good as dead.
Here, in the world of the living, inspirational media stories after the Boston Marathon bombings featured survivors who persevered, grittily relearning to walk atop state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs, fighting for normalcy with each new step. But in Feinberg's world, it made no difference whether a person could still live a rewarding life or never left the race's finish line. That didn't enter the equation—his equation. His choice. His rules. Whether you died at the scene or you lost both your legs, you received the same amount of money—$2.2 million—from the victim fund established in the wake of the attack. If you lost one limb, you received considerably less. If you were hospitalized but kept your limbs, then still less.
Feinberg is the nearly ubiquitous expert who has been called in to divvy up funds for the fallen and the injured in a stomach-churning sequence of tragedies, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, from the Virginia Tech shootings to the Boston bombings. He's Death's accountant. When the stands collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in 2011, killing seven, they called Ken Feinberg. When a gunman murdered 27 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, they called Ken Feinberg. His is the grimmest of specialties.
In this week's National Journal cover story, James Oliphant discusses "Death's accountant." In the video above, go behind the story with James Oliphant.