Sept. 11 Damages Trials Scheduled Week Before 6th Anniversary To Hasten Victims' Compensation
Thursday, July 12th 2007, 10:12 pm
By: News On 6
NEW YORK (AP) _ In a bid to speed compensation to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a judge has taken the unusual step of scheduling trials to determine damages before a jury even determines who can be blamed.
U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein has set the trials to begin in the week before the sixth anniversary of the 2001 attacks, noting: ``Time heals, but time also works against us.'' Damages aren't typically determined until the second phase of a trial.
He said in a written order sent to lawyers in the case last week that staging the trials to decide damages even before juries decide whether companies share blame will ``hasten the resolution of these and many other cases and thus be a significant step in mending the wounds left open by the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001.''
A victims' compensation fund established by Congress after the attacks has paid $6 billion to 2,880 families of those who died in the attacks and more than $1 billion to 2,680 injured victims.
As a result, 97 percent of the families of those killed in the attacks who otherwise might have pursued lawsuits for years have been compensated, the judge said.
But 41 cases filed on behalf of 42 victims are pending because some victims decided to pursue the usual court route rather than accept a payout from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The judge said that with the permission of lawyers and the parties, he met with a few of the surviving relatives and found that many of them told him they desired answers, truth, justice, closure and vindication of their claims while others wanted to settle them.
He said he believed some families thought they could honor important values only through the trial process while others have been unable to settle because of the disparity between what they and the defendants believed their claims were worth.
``This latter group, in particular, will benefit from damages trials that will suggest a range of values that a jury is likely to award in similar cases, enabling the parties to bridge their differences of valuation,'' he said.
He said he believed the damages portion of the cases could occur before blame is assigned because acts committed by the airlines and their security contractors, accused of negligence, are not related to the amount of compensatory damages that victims might recover.
Compensatory damages are usually calculated by deciding how much financial harm to the victim or his family resulted from the event that caused the harm.
Andrew Maloney, a lawyer with Kreindler & Kreindler, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said he agreed with the judge that ``this might break the logjam.''
He said it was unusual to have a trial on damages before it is decided who might be forced to pay them, but he added that it has happened in airline disaster cases.
He said it was unlikely that the start of up to six trials around the time of the Sept. 11 anniversary would cause jurors to be biased.
``We're not trying to pander to them, asking for sympathy. We're asking for what they think is justice,'' he said, though he acknowledged the role emotions can sometimes play in a trial. ``We think you don't have to exercise sympathy, but you don't want to be a robot, either.''
Lawyers for several defendants, including airlines sued in the attacks, did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment Thursday.