The Federal District Court in Manhattan would become the only court in the U.S. authorized to handle civil suits arising out of the terrorist attacks of September 11 under the legislation passed by Congress creating the emergency fund to aid victims of the disaster and the airlines.
According to its terms claimants who apply for compensation from the fund would be barred from litigating their claims in a civil court. The fund is meant to be the first and last organization to examine them. The exact terms and the procedures which will be used have yet to be determined, but Attorney General John Ashcroft has indicated that he favors a “Special Master” who would determine the proper amount for lost income, pain and suffering and other losses.
The legislation is aimed at getting compensation to the families of victims as speedily as possible, and to avoid the fractious litigation that inevitably follows any disaster in the U.S., which drags court cases out for years. Claims from the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 are still being litigated. Under the law the Manhattan Court would be the sole venue for filing lawsuits, including those against the airlines.
Representatives of various trial lawyers associations have indicated that for the moment they will not oppose the the legislation setting up the fund, but, as there are many complex issues involved, it needs to be studied at greater length, and the legislation implementing its administration and procedures needs to be framed in such a way to protect claimants.
For the moment the lawyers have taken the almost unprecedented step of urging their thousands of potential clients to wait until the proposals are fully worked out before determining whether to apply to the fund for relief, or to file a lawsuit. One possibility has been suggested, however, rather than sue the airlines – sue the states which harbored and supported the terrorists.
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