9/11 Lawsuits Seek Answers Through Litigation

Flashback: 2 years ago, on June 29th 2009, The U.S. Supreme Court let a ruling stand regarding 9/11 lawsuits and Saudi Arabia. Reuters reported:

…Saudi Arabia, four of its princes and other Saudi entities cannot be held liable for the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks in the United States.

The justices refused to review the ruling by a U.S. appeals court in New York that the Saudi defendants were protected by sovereign immunity in the lawsuit brought by victims of the attacks and their families.

The appeals court had upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit claiming Saudi Arabia, four princes, a Saudi charity and a Saudi banker provided material support to al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

The victims and their families argued that because the defendants gave money to Muslim charities that in turn gave money to al Qaeda, they should be held responsible for helping to finance the attacks.

The appeals court ruled that exceptions to the sovereign immunity rule do not apply because Saudi Arabia has not been designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

the Obama administration late last month urged the high court to reject the appeal.

Saudi Arabia has been pre-cleared of any crimes relating to 9/11 without proper investigation, but others have not been so lucky avoiding justice. American Airlines, United Airlines, Globe Security and others have all had to hand over millions: Larry Silverstein has proven to be immensely “lucky” with his lawsuits related to 9/11.

Mary Davis, the mother to Mark Bavis who was on flight 175,  is suing the airlines, State Troopers and security companies as well. The Boston Herald reports:

Bavis family members have told the Herald they want their day in court to expose what went terribly wrong on 9/11.

Months before the horrific 9/11 attacks, lackadaisical state troopers specially assigned to protect Logan International Airport failed to act on tips that Middle Eastern men were casing security checkpoints armed with cameras, explosive new court documents allege.

This week, Mary Bavis appealed to a federal judge in Manhattan to reject Massport’s attempt to be removed from the case. The appeal claims state troopers were slow to move on tips — even though they had been warned terrorist groups were targeting Logan.

One of the suspected terrorists whom troopers could have cornered was later identified as al- Qaeda 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta, according to lawyers for a Boston woman who is suing over the loss of her son. The lawyers took depositions from an airline employee and other witnesses.

Troopers were told the Middle Eastern men were “acting suspiciously” and videotaping airport security in May 2001, according to the filing in a New York court.

“When Mohammad Atta went through the security checkpoint after being reported to F Troop that he was photographing, videotaping and surveilling the checkpoints, Massport F Troop did nothing,” the documents state.

The explosive allegations of state police incompetency are part of the nation’s last wrongful-death lawsuit linked to the 9/11 attacks.

The fact is, filming an airport is a far cry from having the ability to navigate our airspace on the eastern half of the US for an hour-and-a half, without transponders and avoiding military intercepts. That fact is highlighted by Norman Mineta’s testimony at the 9/11 commission hearings, establishing that people like Dick Cheney knew one plane was at least “50 miles out”. I’m glad to not live in a country where using a video camera is a crime and considered suspicious – though I don’t know if I don’t know if that is the case anymore.

The amount of wrongful death lawsuits relating to 9/11 are small compared to the amount of actual deaths on 9/11. This is for one reason primarily: The Victims Compensation Fund (VCF).

Offered as a way to help struggling families financially cope with the sudden loss of their loved ones, the VCF was a last-minute addition to a likely flawed legislative Act. The New York School of Law critiqued the Act and this specific provision expansively, notably they state:

On September 22, 2001, after only two hours of debate and less than two days of hearings, both the House and the Senate passed the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act (“ATSSSA” or “Act”).The Act was introduced September 14, 2001, as an immediate legislative solution to what seemed to be the imminent liquidation of the airline industry. Three days earlier the Federal Aviation Agency (“FAA”) had grounded all airplanes and closed down the airspace above the United States for over twenty-four hours in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center (“WTC”) and the Pentagon….On Thursday night, September 20, ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee added a last-minute Victim Compensation Fund 5 (“VCF” or “Fund”) to the Act.

….In order to receive compensation, however, victims are required to waive all rights to file a civil action in any court for damages sustained as a result of the September 11 attacks. As an alternative for those who choose not to participate in the Fund, the Act establishes an exclusive cause of action for all claims “arising out of the hijacking and subsequent crashes” of September 11, limiting potential plaintiffs to exclusive federal jurisdiction in the Southern District of New York. Additionally, the cause of action provision mandates the application of the substantive law of the state in which the crash associated with the victim occurred. Importantly, Title IV of the Act establishes a liability cap on behalf of the airline industry, limiting any tort recovery against the airlines for damages sustained as a result of the events of September 11 to the maximum level of insurance coverage held by the airlines before the disaster. The amount of the insurance policies held by American and United Airlines for such terrorist-related incidents is estimated to be approximately $1.5 billion per plane, resulting in a total of $6 billion in accessible funds for those seeking remedies against the airlines in tort….

…Congress has never before established this type of direct compensation to victims of a national disaster or any other type of mass tort. Congress has never before offered compensation contingent upon complete abdication of the right to sue in a court of law. Most importantly, Congress has never before done this in conjunction with a retroactive liability cap limiting victims’ tort recovery as well as a jurisdictional limitation on both the location and the type of court in which a plaintiff may sue…

(Download full PDF here)

The importance of answers for family members has proven to be more valuable than the financial compensation by the VCF. A Missouri lawyer, Chad Gaddie detailed his recent time with a 9/11 family member who decided against utilizing the VCF, and chose instead to file a civil lawsuit. From Chad’s Crime Victim Services blog:

Last week, I went to Washington, D.C. to attend a conference sponsored by the National Crime Victim Bar Association. While there, I heard Julie Shontere and Keith Franz speak. Ms. Shontere’s daughter was killed in the 9/11 crash at the Pentagon, and Mr. Franz was the attorney that represented the Shontere family.

Ms. Shontere basically had two options to seek damages for the death of her daughter: 1) she could utilize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, or 2) she could file a lawsuit in civil court. The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was basically a government sponsored program that made payments to victims though a streamlined process. However, if anyone took the government money, they were barred from filing a civil lawsuit against the responsible parties.

Although it was a much riskier option, Ms. Shontere chose to file a civil lawsuit. The primary motivation for this decision was that it allowed her to seek answers through the discovery process. If she had just accepted the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund payment, she would have never been able to use depositions, document requests, and other discovery tools to help investigate the multiple failures that allowed this act of terrorism to occur.

Mr. Franz did a brilliant job of detailing the nearly 8 years of litigation. He sued several parties, including the security company at the airport (for not screening close enough), the plane manufacturer (for allowing the cockpit to be so accessible), the airlines, and the airport authorities.

During the discovery process, the government objected to the release of a number of documents on the basis of “national security.” However, it was discovered that during the criminal prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, these documents had been given to him. The awkward position existed where a suspected terrorist had access to “national security” documents, yet the 9/11 victims were not trusted with the same documents. Eventually, the victims obtained them.

Eventually, Ms. Shontere settled her case. In the end, it was evident that the answers she received from civil litigation were more important than the financial recovery that was obtained.

In the end, we all want answers.

Lastly, the case of Mary Bavis, suing for the death of her son Mark has interesting and hardly noticed (by me) allegations, relating to a potential-phone call to Atta “on or about 9/11.” From the New York Post early in 2011:

Lawyers for the family of a Sept. 11 victim want to question a United Airlines worker who they say might have contacted terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta on the day of the attacks.

According to court papers filed yesterday, the lawyers “believe that FBI reports and records show that a call was placed from Julie Ashley’s cellphone to hijacker Mohamed Atta’s cellphone on or about Sept. 11, 2001.”

The filings in Manhattan federal court are in support of a suit against the airline by Mary Bavis, whose son, Mark Bavis, a Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey scout, died when al Qaeda hijackers crashed United Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

The court papers also reveal that Ashley’s husband, Iranian-born pilot Ahmad Farid Khorrami, was jailed for three months right after the attacks on suspicion of links to some of the Sept. 11 hijackers

“The fact that Ashley’s husband was not charged with any crime related to 9/11 does not allow Julie Ashley to avoid testifying in a civil trial,” wrote Bavis’ lawyer, Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general at the US Department of Transportation.

Schiavo’s Jan. 12 letter, which was sent to a Justice Department lawyer, requested copies of all FBI reports concerning Ashley and Khorrami and any phone calls between them and “any 9/11 hijacker or other indicted or publicly disclosed terrorist.”

Neither Schiavo nor Ashley — who on 9/11 was working in Chicago as the manager of United customer baggage services — returned a call for comment.

But in a sworn affidavit, Ashley, 47, a resident of Wheaton, Ill., insists that “at no time prior to, on or after September 11, 2001, did I have contact with any of the September 11th hijackers.”

Ashley also cites the extensive probe of her husband, who was arrested by the feds shortly after Sept. 11.

Khorrami was released after no connections were found between him and hijacker Waleed Al-Sheri, or with other hijackers who studied at a flight school where Khorrami was formerly an instructor.

The FBI declined to comment.

Khorrami became a US citizen in 2008 and is currently suing the Department of Justice over his arrest and incarceration.

In court papers, United says there is “no reason” for Ashley to be deposed or listed as a possible witness for Bavis’ wrongful-death suit against the airline, which is set for trial in June.

The filing calls the request the latest in a series of “fishing expeditions” by the plaintiff’s lawyers.

Others are calling it “fishing” too, even extending these allegations into a heavy Iranian influence on 9/11: Not me, it is just not that simple.