Thursday, May 17, 2012
The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has awarded $300 million in punitive damages to plaintiffs bringing tort claims against Syria and Iran in connection with their alleged role in a 2006 suicide bombing attack in Israel; the recovering plaintiffs were all U.S. citizens. The opinion is noteworthy not only for the size of the punitive-damages award, but also for the opinion's application of the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the opinion's finding that the organization allegedly responsible for the attack was acting as an agent of Iran and Syria. The Jurist also has an article on the opinion.
Although executing on such a judgment is likely difficult and sensitive matters of foreign policy may be implicated, the use of tort law (here, the claims included battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress) seems promising as a way to hold foreign states responsible for terrorism. Indeed, multiple such claims have been litigated recently in the District of Columbia. Apart from general attempts to execute on assets of the defendants seized abroad, perhaps payment of such claims might be raised by the U.S. Department of State in connection with any future regime change and new government in the defendant countries.