SAN FRANCISCO DAILY
LOS ANGELES DAILY
FRIDAY, JULY 16,
TRIAL LAWYERS’ AID TO
PAYS TRIBUTE TO VICTIMS OF TERRORIST
Trial lawyers often face
criticism - even in the current presidential campaign, for example - but take a
look at what the Association of Trial Lawyers of America did to encourage and
assist families to apply to the Federal Sept. 11 Victims' Compensation Fund,
rather than sue.
By the June 15 deadline to
collect from the Fund, an astonishing 98 percent of the victims' families chose
the no-suit strategy. Six billion dollars has been paid out from the fund for
2,963 death cases and 4,430 injury claims.
Trial Lawyers Care - a group
of more than 1,100 trial lawyers volunteering free help to
the Sept. 11 victims and their families - represented over half of the 2,900
victims' families from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. ATLA's
work was the largest pro-bono legal effort in U.S. history. Congressman John
Conyers (D-MI), minority leader of the House Judiciary Committee, called these
efforts an "extraordinary response to this extraordinary
Already devastated by loss
and grief, the
families of Sept. 11 victims faced drawn-out and uncertain litigation -
especially, given that suits were considered against airline giants, security
companies, foreign governments, hijackers and terrorist organizations, among
others. Families would have waited years for resolution. Utilizing the victims'
fund accelerated the process of economic compensation, justice and closure. It
allowed for healing to begin.
Association of Trial Lawyers
of America not only provided the pro-bono legal work, but conceived and helped
to write the legislation in Congress that created the Sept. 11 victims fund
itself. Immediately after the attacks, the airlines asked Congress to keep them
from going belly-up to cover the damages. ATLA felt that, if the country were to
protect the airlines from the financial impact of 9/11, it certainly should
assist the individual victims (and their families). To leave the families out in
the cold would have been the ultimate injustice.
Congressional leaders on
both sides of the aisle agreed. So did President Bush. On Sept. 21, 2001 - just
10 days after the attacks - in a remarkable spirit of bipartisan comity,
Congress passed and the president signed into law the Victim Compensation
The action has had an impact
right here in California.
San Leandro resident Alan
Mennie's daughter, Melissa, 27, was an ensign in the Navy working in the
Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into it. Derrill Bodley's
20-year-old daughter, Deora, a junior at Santa Clara University, was the
youngest person on United Airlines Flight 93 - whose passengers learned of the
attacks on the Twin Towers and then agreed they would not allow the plane to
become a missile aimed at another crowded national symbol.
Both Melissa Mennie and
Deora Bodley were just two of the heroes who died for their country. The
greatest achievement of the Victims' Compensation Fund has been to honor them
and help their families.
Trial lawyers often fight
for consumers' rights, patients' health care, product safety, and pension
protections from corporations that want to take them away. Yet I've never been
more proud of lawyers, as a professional whole, than I've been due to their work
for the victims of Sept. 11. Despite early
doubts, the Victims' Compensation Fund achieved its objective.
Bureaucrats are sometimes criticized in the
same way as trial lawyers, but the fund's special master, Kenneth Feinberg,
worked tirelessly and efficiently to ensure its success.
The families, lawyers,
airlines and all Americans affected by Sept. 11 should be satisfied by the
collective effort launched by trial lawyers. The 98 percent of families
compensated after the attacks are proof a fight for justice has been won. Trial
lawyers do care.
Alexander, a San Francisco-based consumer attorney, is chair of ATLA's national
political action committee and former ATLA President.