Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Assessing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Article in the ABA Journal -- Accounting for Lives: The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Worked.  But What About Next Time?, by Jill Schachner Chanen and Margaret Graham Tebo.  The ABA is also hosting a teleconference -- Compensation Funds: Are They Enough?, on September 19.  Here's an excerpt from the article:

Mari-Rae Sopper thought she was embarking on a new stage in her life when she boarded American Airlines Flight 77 the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, at Washington Dulles International Airport. Sopper had decided to leave behind her law practice in Washington, D.C., and return to gymnastics, the passion of her youth. After the flight reached Los Angeles, Sopper would go to her new job as head coach of the women’s gymnastics team at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Sopper never made it to that new life. Instead, she and everyone else on Flight 77 died when terrorists took over the plane and crashed it into the Pentagon.

Sopper’s griefstruck parents wanted answers. Her mother, Marion Kminek of Cape Coral, Fla., says her initial inclination was to file a lawsuit in efforts to get them. But after consulting with two leading plaintiffs lawyers in Chicago, Kminek says, she decided to heed their advice that she avoid the frustration and delays of litigation and seek compensation, if not resolution, through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001. Congress created the fund to handle claims by victims of the terrorist attacks as part of leg­islation providing relief to the airline industry.

Going through the fund didn’t give Kminek all the answers she was looking for, but it did give her some measure of closure through a relatively simple administrative process that resulted in a compensation payment after a relatively short time. But after going through the process, Kminek knows she will never get the information she really wanted about the events that led to her daughter’s death, and she wonders what would have happened if victims and their families had banded together and sued the airlines and government bodies.

“The lawsuits serve a purpose in that you don’t get changes made or the discovery done without them,” Kminek says. “Look at the tobacco lawsuits. If that was not done, I don’t think a lot of that information would be out there. None of us were doing this for the money. We were doing it for the discovery. But none of us will get the answers.”



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