U.S. Gears Up September 11 Victim Compensation Fund

Article excerpt

In the aftermath of the hijacked airplane attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Congress enacted and the U.S. President signed into law the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act (H.R. 2926; P.L. 107-42), Title IV of which establishes the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001. (A description of the provisions of the act appears in "September 11 Attacks Spawn Airline Industry Help," in "Conning the IADC Newsletters," page 107 of this issue of Defense Counsel Journal.)

The purpose of the Victim Compensation Fund is to provide quick and no-fault compensation to persons who were physically injured, or to the personal representatives of persons who died, as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and in the crash of the hijacked airliner near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The fund is to be administered by a special master, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has appointed Kenneth R. Feinberg to that position.

Interim final regulations relating to the administration of the fund were issued by the Department of Justice on December 21, 2001 (28 C.F.R. Part 104) and are available at www. usdoj.gov/ victimcompensation/victimcompfedreg. htm. Highlights of the statute and the regulations are:

* The fund is an alternative to a tort claim, and if an application is filed with the fund, the claimant waives the right to file a civil action in federal or state court, except for actions to recover collateral source obligations.

* Claims must be filed with the fund within two years of the effective date of the regulations-that is, December 21, 2003.

* The special master must make a determination of a claim within 120 days from its filing. Decisions of the special master are final and not reviewable by any court.

* Payments as authorized by the special master will be made by the U.S. government, which in turn obtains the right of subrogation.

* Compensation will be provided only for losses arising from personal physical injury or death, not for other losses, such as property losses. Lost employment and emotional harm, for examples, are not included.

* The special master anticipates that all awards from the fund will be free of U.S. federal taxation under Section 104 of the Internal Revenue Code.

* Individual circumstances beyond economic and noneconomic harm will be taken into consideration. Absent extraordinary circumstances, the special master anticipates that awards in excess of $3 million rarely will be appropriate, but that families of deceased victims should receive a combined total of at $500,000 from the fund, other federal and state programs, life insurance, and other sources of compensation. …