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Kia Franklin

Bottom Line for Families of 9/11 Passengers Going to Court

What’s the bottom line? When we’re talking about lawsuits, that’s usually the big question, the deal-breaker that either ceases all conversation or sets people abuzz.

Today in the NY Times there’s an article on the lawsuits filed by 41 different families on behalf of their loved ones who died on 9/11. (Read it here) The lawsuits—against various defendants including United and American Airlines, the airport security operations, and Boeing—are brought by those who found the amount offered under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to be so low it was insulting.

These were the families of people without spouses, dependants, and high paying jobs—retired people, children, and singles, for example—who would be compensated the least under the Fund because of their earning potential and family status. Other rules under the Victim Compensation Fund, like deducting existing life insurance payments from the total compensation given by the Fund, meant that some families were compensated $250,000 while others received $7.1 million. The average compensation was $2 million.

Clinging to their loved one’s trinkets that survived the crash, these families also hold on to grief and a desire for the truth about what happened and whether anything could have prevented it. But to get there, they must also deal with the bottom line. One judge has ordered six trials to determine damages to take place before the trials on liability. This may encourage settlement and reduce the number of cases that make it to trial.

It feels, to say the least, odd... putting a money value on human life; or talking about the victims and their families in a way that goes straight to the dollar first, and then gets into the more personal details about who the person was; or seeking the bottom line to encourage settlement rather than arrival at the answers through the court process. According to the Times article, the plaintiffs in these cases express the same mixed emotions.

On the one hand is the desire to find truth, to determine whether or not something should have been done—whether the airport security should have been more vigilant, whether the airlines could have known and prevented the disaster, whether anyone, besides the terrorists, contributed to the event by failing to take action or by taking the wrong actions. On the other hand there’s the sting of seeing the monetary value assigned to the life of one’s beloved. In the case of the September 11th Fund, added to this sting is the hurt of knowing that this assessment is based on cold calculations of income and marital status.

The Times article lends attention to one reason people sue--namely, the search for answers. It highlights three groups of loved ones related to 9/11 victims: the father of a 28 year-old flight attendant, the son of a 72-year-old woman passenger, and the parents of an eleven-year-old passenger who aspired to be a doctor.

Each family believes they would have been under-compensated through the September 11th Fund, and find it inequitable that their loved ones would be compensated so much less than others because they were not pilots or surgeons with kids and a partner. But just as important, they also believe that lapses in airport security and other oversights contributed to the event, and that there has been too much secrecy about what happened on September 11th and what could have been done to prevent it. So, they are seeking answers. While this question—what could have been done differently—is something almost everyone who loses a loved one asks, these families believe that through the courts they might actually arrive at an answer. And to them, that seems to be the bottom line that really matters.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:50 AM, Sep 04, 2007 in 9/11 & Ground Zero
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Comments

I find these cases amazing. A group of determined and trained terrorists attack our country and we respond with a legal system set up to sue our own people! We then say it is not about money but turn around and say "Each family believes they would have been under-compensated through the September 11th Fund" and goes for more money. If you want to really find out what happened and who is to blame for 911 I suggest they sue the islamic terrorists who planed the attack, not the Airlines. But then, there would be no money in it.

Posted by: throckmorton | September 5, 2007 10:12 PM

First, about the money--one family rejected $1.85MIL offered through the Fund, not to "go for more money" as you say, but because it was a choice between that and access to information about what the airlines, the airport security, and other defendants knew about a possible terrorist attack or about security threats. They want to know what happened and what these parties did and did not do, and $1.85 million wasn't going to keep them from seeking this information. Another family was responsible enough to have life insurance policies, and going to the Fund would have made no difference to them. Still others, yes, take issue with the system for compensating families and think that a jury would be better than a formula at determining the proper compensation.

But who, specifically, are "our own people"? The airline industry lobbied hard for the legislation that created the Victim's Comp Fund, and which, oh by the way, gave them $15 billion in safety net for their losses. Nothing wrong with them getting help, but why did the families of the 3,000+ victims combined get less than half of that?

Because "our own people" lobbied to get Congress to offer money to grieving families, but only if they first relinquish their (constitutional) right to seek answers--answers about 9/11 that would not only bring closure to them but would be helpful to the whole country--via the court system.

Obviously the terrorists are ultimately and primarily to blame for what happened. But if the defendants had enough information to take preventive action, then the families have a right to demand that that question is explored. Not even getting into whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, why should they be denied the opportunity to ASK these questions? They have reason to suspect there were lapses in security and other breches of duties to passengers, and they have a right to get some answers.

Posted by: Kia | September 6, 2007 3:02 PM

My understanding was that the airlines as well as others who were victims of 911 (yes the airlines were victims also) realized that there would be many attorneys and clients looking for someone to blame who had deep pockets. It therefore became necessary to establish a fund as a way to avoid the thousands of lawsuits, but like any other lawsuit it is essential that those who accept the money refain from futher suits. You state that it is only if they first relinquish their rights to seek answers, no it is if they stop trying to sue the parties who are also victims. Closure will come when all those who planned and carried out the attack are delt with, not but helping the terrorists by using our legal system to continue to attack the same individuals, institutions and governments that the terrorists attacked.

If you really want the court system to bring the answers, try Osama Bin Laden.

Posted by: throckmorton | September 6, 2007 6:40 PM

It may be helpful for someone to actually do some RESEARCH and find out how much money the airlines received from the congress backed bailout plan. Things are not always as they seem....

Posted by: Melodie | September 8, 2007 9:46 AM

Please pardon my lack of typing skills. I lost my 33 year old single daughter on 9-11 no remains have ever been recovered. In an effort to find closure I accepped the victms compensation amount offered. By the way far less than the average you stated in your article. Closure will only come when Osama is captured & braught to justice . Also the Groupes that supported him are made to compnsate the American people ,GovermentPlease pardon my lack of typing skills. I lost my 33 year old single daughter on 9-11 no remains have ever been recovered. In an effort to find closure I accepped the victms compensation amount offered. By the way far less than the average you stated in your article. Closure will only come when Osama is captured & braught to justice . Also the Groupes that supported him are made to compnsate the American people ,Goverment

Posted by: Ralph Luzzicone | September 8, 2007 11:52 AM

Very interesting discussion of this topic on this Alternet Blog.

Posted by: Kia | September 10, 2007 12:04 PM

If foreseeability is the requirement of duty, then the attack lacked CIA grade foreseeability. If a huge intelligence agency failed to predict the attack, how can a corporation not in the business of terror control be expected to do so?

I would like to see the defendants file counter-claims and cross claims against the passengers who allowed the terrorists to take control of the airplanes. They had an affirmative duty, following hijacked passenger standards of other nations, to restrain and kill the terrorists. If the hijacking had taken place on an Israeli or a French airline, there would have been no attack on the World Trade Center. Those people have not been lawyer whipped as Americans have. Those foreigners think of other people than themselves, because they have not been subjected to lawyer intimidation or propaganda.

The plaintiffs should be listed, along with the lawyers. These people should be shunned by all patriotic Americans. These lawsuit lotto seekers deserve no sympathy.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | September 10, 2007 8:33 PM

SC: We don't have the information necessary to determine whether the CIA really lacked the information to foresee an attack. That information is being kept secret. 40 years from now we may be quite surprised (or not) to learn the extent to which this event was predictible. Stranger things have happened before.

That said, it doesn't matter. Foreseeability doesn't have to be "CIA grade," It's about what a reasonable party would do in the defendants' positions--knowing what they knew about previously hijacked planes, proper security measures, etc. Happily we'll be able to get into some of these details soon enough thanks to the lawsuits.

Posted by: Kia | September 12, 2007 6:51 PM