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Nearly 100 Families Are Suing Over 9/11

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
Nearly 100 Families Are Suing Over 9/11
Federal Compensation Is Forsaken
By Michelle García
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 23, 2004; Page A09

NEW YORK, Jan 22 -- Nearly 100 families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have decided to sue airlines and government agencies, rejecting the federal government's offer of millions of dollars in compensation.

The families of victims in the plane crashes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in a rural field in central Pennsylvania had until Thursday to notify the U.S. District Court in Manhattan whether they would file lawsuits or sign a government waiver forgoing lawsuits in exchange for guaranteed compensation. The minimum federal compensation is $250,000 for deaths, though many awards could top $1 million.

Several families waited to receive estimates of anticipated federal awards before making their last-minute decision to sue. Some families hope that their lawsuits might uncover information about government and corporate missteps that allowed the hijackers to carry out their plot. Others disliked the idea that taxpayers should foot the bill for the deaths of their loved ones.

Kenneth P. Nolan, who heads the plaintiff steering committee for those families who have chosen to sue, estimated that 80 to 100 wrongful-death cases would become activated by the end of day; the cases had to be filed within two years of the attacks and had been on hold until families made their decisions by Thursday's deadline. The lawsuits filed by a few dozen lawyers name airlines, airport security companies, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, among others, as defendants.

The lawsuits contend that the defendants knew in 2001 that terrorist groups were targeting airlines and airports and took insufficient steps to forestall the attacks. For example, a lawsuit filed by nine families claims defendants had knowledge of "dangerous long-standing flaws in airline and airport security" and were negligent.

Nolan, who represents six plaintiffs, acknowledged his clients had chosen a riskier path than pursuing federal compensation.

"I believe that eventually those 100 lawsuits will be settled and that the families will receive compensation without the necessity of discovery or trial," he said. "Will they win-win-win? Who knows."

Far more families, however, have filed for federal compensation. The fund has received 2,924 of the total 2,976 eligible death claims.

"Today is the starting line of the day of reckoning," said Charles Miller, spokesman for the federal victim compensation fund. "We are in the full drive in processing claims and helping people getting the ballpark figures necessary to get an idea of how much compensation they would get."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said at last count they were aware of 43 pending cases filed against them. A spokesman for American Airlines, which operated two of the four hijacked flights, declined to comment on pending litigation.

Argenbright, the security company at Washington Dulles International Airport, has been named in a number of lawsuits. Its attorney, Chuck Koob, said: "I don't know how you account for terrorism. That's what this litigation process is going to have to struggle with."

Marcellia Potler, her sisters and mother waited two years before they discussed the choices before them. Deadlines meant little to a family mourning the death of their father, Ronald F. Golinski, a career Army man who took a civilian job at the Pentagon after retiring. He was working in the building's outer ring when an airplane barreled into the building.

After months of wrestling with their options, the women gathered over pizza one week before the deadline for a final conversation and decided to sue.

Potler, a resident of Columbia, Md., said the decision came down to a search for answers. The family, she said, believed suing will uncover new information about the attacks. "It was what my father would have wanted us to do," she said. "My father never backed down from a fight."