Friday, May 9, 2008
Yesterday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a $38 million settlement for victims of the I-35W bridge collapse. Here's the AP story in USA Today. Interestingly, state legislator Phyllis Kahn, who co-authored the compensation bill, was quoted in this article in the Minnesota Daily as saying that the bill was modeled after the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, including the waiver of the right to sue the state. For reasons I explained on Monday, the Minnesota compensation deal is better understood as an ordinary mass tort settlement rather than as an extraordinary government compensation package like the September 11 Fund. There's an enormous difference between the government's using taxpayers' money to settle potential claims against that government (the Minnesota deal) and the government's using taxpayers' money to settle potential claims against others (the 9/11 Fund, which used federal government funds but required participants to release whatever claims they may have had against the airlines or Port Authority). The former might occur anytime a government defendant faces mass tort claims. That's why the Minnesota package makes me glad as long as both the claimants and the state are satisfied with its terms. The latter, however, can rarely be justified. This is the point that special master Ken Feinberg made powerfully in his final report on the Victim Compensation Fund: the 9/11 situation and the government's generous response to it should be viewed as sui generis. That strikes me as exactly right, which is why it makes me nervous to hear the 9/11 Fund invoked as a model for something that in fact is quite different and much less problematic.