Jewish World Review May 30, 2003 / 28 Iyar, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
Ashes to assets
This much is clear: Among the casualties of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, you won't find the Spirit of
Within days of the attacks, Congress created a
Victim Compensation Fund to compensate victims'
families, while discouraging them from suing airlines,
airports or other potential litigation targets. The intent
was both compassionate -- in providing money to the
injured and to grieving families who had lost their
loved ones' income -- and savvy, as Washington
wanted to minimize the damage to the other al
Qaeda target: the U.S. economy.
Guess what? This week, the fund announced that,
while the average payout to each victim's family is
$1.4 million and the highest award amounted to $6
million, nearly half of the estimated 3,000 victims'
families have not applied for compensation.
Fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg told the
Associated Press that the number of filings is low --
despite a final application date of Dec. 22, 2003 - -
because some families are still grieving, some are
procrastinating and others are watching how cases
are handled so they'll know how to get a larger
There are two other factors, however, at play.
One is that some family members want to sue the
airlines and airport security, and those responsible
for the World Trade Center -- and they're willing to
forfeit the fund money to make their point to
I think those who want to sue are wrong. They're
delivering the sort of blow to key U.S. industries that
the terrorists had hoped for, as they fault companies
for not having secured their loved ones against
Cathy Ashton of Queens, the mother of a victim, told
the New York Daily News that she knew she was
"throwing away a sure million dollars by suing," but
"we really want to hold those people accountable."
The other, alas, is greed.
Earlier this month a federal judge threw out a lawsuit
that claimed the fund discriminates against
America's top 2 percent of income earners. One
plaintiff, Victor Colaio, told the Associated Press that
$5 million or $6 million may not be enough, because
his son, who died in the World Trade Center attacks,
would have earned much more had he lived: "Our son
was making quite a bit of money, in the millions, and
to give him only less than a year's salary, that
doesn't feel right."
"Give him?" The son is dead.
"Doesn't feel right?"
What can feel right about awarding different amounts
of money to compensate for people who were
murdered? Civil courts can only do so much -- such
as indemnify economic losses -- and that benefits
high-income earners. Congress adopted
compensation formulas similar to those used in
airline settlements. Yet now families of richies say
it's not enough.
And if Colaio thinks $5 million doesn't "feel right,"
A bond trader's spouse gets more than the widow of
the firefighter who died trying to save the trader.
Or: An executive's parent stands to reap more from
the government than the mother of three whose U.S.
Marine husband died in Iraq.
Or: There are Americans willing to burn federal
dollars in a quest to squeeze a few extra million from
Uncle Sam, while the families of military reservists,
who are risking their lives in the Persian Gulf,
struggle to get by on military pay.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate