This time, the lawyers ran away from the ambulances.
One day after planes first hit the World Trade Center, the
Association of Trial Lawyers of America urged attorneys to avoid
bringing lawsuits related to the attacks.
But with thousands of casualties and tens of billions in damages
at stake, neither victims nor lawyers who specialize in "mass
torts" are likely to hold back for long.
"It won't continue," says Federal District Court Judge Jack
Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York. "There's too much
Victims' families are already retaining attorneys who handled
previous disasters, including the Pan Am Flight 103 explosion over
Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
This attack - with defendants ranging from airlines to a trail of
terror suspects around the globe - promises to fuel some of the most
complex litigation ever brought in the United States.
The first World Trade Center bombing killed six people, yet
resulted in 500 lawsuits by 700 individuals, businesses, and
insurance companies, asking for $500 million in damages, says Blair
Fensterstock, lead attorney in the case. Eight years later, the
case is still not finished.
In this instance, legal experts say the government must fashion
faster recovery methods that ensure victims' families can collect
quickly and the courts don't get clogged.
Last week, Congress voted to give victims or their families the
choice of recovering from a pool of private insurance and
government money administered by the Department of Justice or by
suing in federal court in Manhattan.
Capping airlines' liability
American and United Airlines each had its liability capped at the
level of insurance coverage held on the day the planes were
hijacked. Taxpayers will pay the rest of the money paid out of the
Department of Justice fund.
Families who opt for the fund will probably get money faster but
will likely receive money under an undetermined formula based on
each victim's income and insurance. Victims who go to court could
recover more, but risk getting nothing if the airlines run out of
insurance money or go bankrupt.
Even after the airlines' money is exhausted, a lengthy roster of
potential defendants remains. Osama bin Laden and countries that
support his network top the list. Federal law allows terrorist
victims to recover from countries that support the terrorists.
Provisions of the law provide for huge money judgments designed to
deter future terrorist attacks.
Former hostages in Lebanon and the families of terrorist victims
have won judgments totaling more than $1 billion against Iran.
Former Beirut hostage Terry Anderson was awarded $340 million last
The US government gives plaintiffs cash for the compensatory
damages while holding assets of terrorist sponsors as a deposit
until the country actually pays up. Anderson collected $40 million
from the US Treasury, which now holds the claim against Iran. The
US now has the rights to the other $300 million. It is holding
Iranian assets as a security deposit until it recovers funds from
the government of Iran, but hasn't actually seized the assets.
The US State Department could quickly open the doors to
additional suits by adding Afghanistan or other countries
implicated to the list of states sponsoring terrorism, says
attorney Stuart H. …