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U.S. Plan for Compensation for World Trade Center Deaths: Unfair to Survivors and Surviving Families

On Saturday, September 22, Congress and the White House agreed on an Act called the "Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act." reported as a "rescue plan" for the airline industry. The new law limits the liability of airlines for their responsibility for September 11th and to those who give up the right to sue the airlines, the law offers surviving families the option to collect limited damages to be awarded by a Special Master, without the constitutional right to trial by jury.

In other words, no matter the extend of the negligence of United Airlines and American Airlines, victims are limited to the airlines¹ insurance coverage. Their airlines¹ assets are fully protected. That is a revolutionary change in American law where the amount of insurance is never reported to a jury and where damages are never limited by the amount of coverage of a wrongdoer.

Worse, for those who opt-out of holding the airlines responsible for their misconduct, a government fund administered by a Special Master is only authorized to award limited damages, even though the Federal Aviation Administration is largely responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon injuries and deaths.

The new law is vague on damages that can be collected from the Special Master. The statute requires the applicant establish that the victim was injured or killed as a result of the events on September 11 and must show the harm suffered by the victim, including lost earnings capacity and pain and suffering, and the amount of compensation the victim is entitled to receive.

There is no provision for compensation for grief or for the lost love, care, comfort and society suffered by the survivors of the dead.

The applicant also must reveal any other sources of compensation to which the victim is entitled, including life insurance, workers¹ compensation death or injury benefits and presumably social security benefits for both those who have been disabled and survivor¹s benefits in death cases.

These limitations on fair and just compensation are unknown in American law and are a radical departure from longstanding standards of American justice in catastrophic injury and death cases.

In all fairness, the U.S. government should pay full and complete reparations to every person killed on September 11th as a result of the complete failure of the Federal Aviation Administration to protect the public and the FAA¹s long history of requiring safety precautions after the crash.

Consider the FAA¹s deplorable record.

The rule that all aircraft flying above 18,000 feet must adhere to Instrument Flight Rules was adopted by the FAA after the crash of United and TWA airliners over the Grand Canyon on June 30, 1956 in which 128 were killed.

Speed limits near airports were imposed after the December 16, 1960 crash of a United Airlines DC-8 and a TWA Constellation over Staten Island in which 134 died.

On September 25, 1978, while under FAA radar control a Pacific Southwest Airways Boeing 727 collided with a single engine Cessna 172 over San Diego killing 144. The FAA then decided to adopt new rules for traffic separation.

On August 31, 1986 in the Cerritos tragedy, a Piper Archer without an FAA clearance crossed the path of an Aeromexico DC-9 jet within the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area, killing 82. After the crash the FAA stiffened traffic enforcement.

The December 7, 1987 crash of PSA flight 1771 over Paso Robles resulted in a new FAA requirement that all persons pass through metal detectors, including crew members, before accessing aircraft gateways. That was after a deranged PSA employee smuggled a gun onto the plane, shot the crew and put the plane into a power dive that killed 42. Those murders would not have occurred had there been bullet-proof, locked cockpit doors.

What did the FAA do about that as terrorism attacks increased across the U.S. and around the world? Nothing.

Based on this record, the U.S. government should be paying full damages for the losses suffered by the survivors and by the families whose loved ones died on September 11th.

Anything less is unjust.

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