The 9/11 Victim's Fund
September 26, 2004 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Why the 9/11 Fund was a Mistake. The final numbers for the 9/11 fund are in. Controversy remains. As does litigation. The settlement was attacked as "corporate welfare." The price tag has grown. RAND wonders "What Have We Learned About Compensating Victims of Terrorism?"
posted by trharlan (35 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

If anyone's curious, and she's okay with it, I could ask my ex-girlfriend (her brother was killed in the north tower) what her thoughts on the fund are. The article in the first link talks about brothers and sisters fighting over the proceeds, which surprised me. Maybe when there's no other family? I'd imagine that my ex's sister-in-law and two young nephews got a big check from the fund, as her brother made a pretty good living, and the leaving of a widow and two young boys and all.

I've thought the fund was inevitably going to have problems and be controversial, but it still seems like a better solution than litigation to me. Yeah, it's screwed-up that these particular victims of this particular tragedy are being so well taken care of by our society when so many people aren't—but it was never a possibility that it would be otherwise. And if it had been litigation, either class action of individually, it would probably still be in the pre-trial stage. Maybe there would have been a settlement, but people would have been wanting and expecting such a large amount, I'm not sure. Either way, though, I don't know if the families would have seen a dime yet, or would likely to have for years, still. This way people started to get money very quickly. Surely that's a good thing?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:24 PM on September 26, 2004

A stupid idea. Why should one death be worth so much more then any other? Giving these people millions of dollars each just because they were related to people who died in the WTC and Pentagon dosn't make any sense when you consider all the other people in the country who die by tragidy.

If you want to setup a 'tragidy' fund, then by all means do so. But this is just rediculous.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on September 26, 2004

It was hush money too, so they wouldn't sue.
Victims and their families who applied for payments from the fund are barred from suing in most cases, except for suits against those who were knowingly involved in the hijackings.
Most of the families of the dead - almost 2,900 - chose to apply to the fund rather than to risk lawsuits. But a number chose to sue the airlines, airports, security firms and plane manufacturers.
"At one point, there were 350 lawsuits pending," said Desmond Barry Jr., a partner at Condon Forsyth, who is the coordinator for the defense lawyers in those cases, which have been consolidated in U.S. District Court in New York City.
Now there are about 86 wrongful death and personal injury cases outstanding, most of them brought by the families of passengers on the four hijacked planes, he said, and about 14 suits over property damage.
--from the IHT link
posted by amberglow at 7:38 PM on September 26, 2004

I didn't want to be the first to say it, because it sounds, on the surface, to be completely heartless, but what delmoi said. Many of us have suffered similar tragedies (losing loved ones in a blink of an eye, leaving the family with a very shaky financial situation), but none of them are able to collect government relief, unless it's welfare. The 9/11 victims do not deserve an average of 2 million per family. (Unless the government did, in fact, knowingly ignore credible evidence that this specific attack was going to take place, but then we have all sorts of other problems)
posted by BlueTrain at 7:40 PM on September 26, 2004

Why should one death be worth so much more then any other?

Now THAT's the (six) billion dollar question. I certainly don't think that Feinberg addressed the question in any sort of appropriate way in the RAND article. Instead he goes on with the musing that basically people will remember 911 and that alone justifies everything around it.

In other words, if one of your loved ones was in the Murrah building, "it sucks to be you", comparatively, even though the terrorist act was done by an American whose training had come from the US government.
posted by clevershark at 7:41 PM on September 26, 2004

Why should one death be worth so much more then any other?

I think some people in Oklahoma City would probably agree with you on that.

What astounded me when I first heard about the fund was that larger incomes of victim = more payout. There are just so many things wrong with that line of thinking, I don't know where to start.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:42 PM on September 26, 2004

I hope when I die my family has enough class to avoid slapping a dollar amount onto my life.

But yeah, bad things happen. Either compensate people equally or don't compensate them at all. I do think there ought to be government help for people left in difficult circumstances due to death, but I think there should be government help for people in most bad situations, not just ones that happen on a rather more spectacular scale.
posted by dame at 7:48 PM on September 26, 2004

I hope when I die my family has enough class to avoid slapping a dollar amount onto my life.

Does that mean that you're forgoing private life insurance also? Because that very directly puts a dollar amount on your life...
posted by clevershark at 7:56 PM on September 26, 2004

Just ask the Dead Wives Club what they think about it. Showing soon on a TV channel near you.
posted by mischief at 8:00 PM on September 26, 2004

Ken Feinberg, the Special Master in charge of the fund, came and spoke at my law school last year. I have the video of his lecture if anyone wants to see it. It is a 195 MB QT file. It is on my server right now, but I don't really want to blow through a bunch of bandwidth (my friend is kind enough to hook me up with free space and I don't want to take advantage of his generosity). Shoot me an email (sasnak - if you want to watch it, and I'll send you a link (or if anyone knows of a free way to put it out there for everyone please let me know).

Mr. Feinberg spoke right after the victim compensation program had come to a close. He was very frank and quite blunt in his assessment of the program and the questions it raises. I got to have lunch with him after the lecture (I am sitting just beyond the right side of this picture). He is a pretty amazing guy. If you are at all interested in this topic then you will really enjoy his lecture.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 8:03 PM on September 26, 2004

The one good thing to come out of these payoffs is The Jersey Girls, who were instrumental in getting the 9/11 Commission to happen (which ended up wimping out, but still), and are still fighting, and endorsing Kerry.

And now we're seeing Iraq moms, who have lost kids in the war, coming forward.
posted by amberglow at 8:06 PM on September 26, 2004

So, do we all owe an apology to Ted Rall?! For his "Terror Widows" strip of March 30, 2002?

(Sorry, I can't find a link to the actual cartoon. His site seems to not want to display it.)

"larger incomes of victim = more payout"

Civil_Disobedient. I'm not saying it's right, but that is one of the tenets of tort law. Well, at least it is in the UK and Australia.

I have vague memories of doing a compulsory law unit at university, and hearing the term "the manner in which they were accustomed" - which tended to favour rich people in court decisions.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:10 PM on September 26, 2004

Hm, I tend to think life insurance amounts to paying into a pot so that a certain predefined amount is paid out for your survivors. That is rather far from waiting until someone is dead and then demanding the government pay based on what s/he would have made had s/he still been alive.

But you're right, I should have said, I hope my family has enough class not to use my death as an excuse for money grubbing.
posted by dame at 8:13 PM on September 26, 2004

nah, uncanny, but the payouts freed them up to fight, benefiting all of us. Here's that cartoon, btw
posted by amberglow at 8:19 PM on September 26, 2004

Yeah, you can't argue against the fund on either the "why are these people so special?", or "why do higher income people get more money?" because it had to be that way. It had to be that way because litigation would have been that way, and no one would have accepted this as an alternative to litigation otherwise.

I don't agree with amberglow in his implication—that there was something nefarious about avoiding the litigation. If you look at the size of the fund, it's obvious that the victims got a lot of money. If anything, the reaction here shows that there's some sentiment that it's too much. And, the point is, if it had been litigated, maybe it would have been more money, but a big portion of that would have gone to lawyers when it didn't need to. I bet a lot of these families got more money than they would have had they had to hire attorneys. And, the outcomes would have been very random, depending upon juries and how sympathetic they were to a particular victim, whatever. Or, if it had been a class-action suit, it would probably still be in litigation because it would be so enormous.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:19 PM on September 26, 2004

I made that hush money statement because the government fought against answering questions, and forming a commission, as well as putting strings on the fund forcing recipients to give up the right to sue--questions and information that surely would have come up in a court case, i believe.

Who knows what would have happened in courts? We do know for sure how the administration set up the fund, and their behavior subsequently bears out that they didn't want to answer any questions or provide any info on all the warnings and their failure to act beforehand.
posted by amberglow at 8:25 PM on September 26, 2004

The government and non-profit greedy response to 9-11 is disgusting.
posted by fleener at 8:27 PM on September 26, 2004

EB—I don't think an end run around the system is ever good. The courts are set up for appropriate redress. Not to mention, the money from the federal fund comes from the whole nation's taxes, which isn't particularly fair. The Port Authority should have paid out for having unsafe buildings, and New York City should have paid out for having shitty radios. Then they would have had a particular economic motivation for fixing those things.

Besides, pragmatism is a poor substitute for right and wrong. And in this case, "working" is rather in the eye of the beholder, isn't it? Sure, there's no giant lawsuit, but what might have come out had there been? Would the results have been superior to the somewhat toothless commission? Would fewer people be disgusted by a government paying out hush money in a crappy fashion?

(Sorry for poor construction: I'm sick.)
posted by dame at 8:30 PM on September 26, 2004

nah, uncanny, but the payouts freed them up to fight, benefiting all of us.

Are you taking the piss?! I don't get it.

Oh, and I think that should read, "the manner to which they were accustomed."

posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:30 PM on September 26, 2004

Sorry amberglow. I get it now. Please ignore my Q. Thanks for the link, too!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:33 PM on September 26, 2004

this is what i mean, uncanny : Over the last three years, the group of 9/11 widows turned activists dubbed the "Jersey Girls" have become a fixture on the Washington political scene. Some of them are Republicans, others Democrats or independents. But they are all determined to hold official Washington accountable for the attacks that killed their husbands and nearly 3,000 others. They have held news conferences, lobbied members of Congress, pored over documents, and forced the White House to accept an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Along the way, the women have learned about coverups, obfuscation, political cowardice, deceptions and the dangers of eschewing international alliances for a go-it-alone foreign policy. -- from Salon, 9/15
posted by amberglow at 8:36 PM on September 26, 2004

oop..well, there's another.
posted by amberglow at 8:37 PM on September 26, 2004

double oop--it's the same link--oh well : >
posted by amberglow at 8:38 PM on September 26, 2004

I have the video of his lecture if anyone wants to see it. It is a 195 MB QT file...if anyone knows of a free way to put it out there for everyone please let me know

sp_dinsmoor, here's the thread you're looking for
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:44 PM on September 26, 2004

Dame and amberglow: I guess I'm not comfortable linking or especially relying upon civil litigation regarding the compensation of the families of victims as the primary means of truth-seeking regarding 9/11. They are two seperate (obviously related) things in my opinion.

The point, supposedly (and what I agree with) was to avoid the litigation because it would be costly, wasteful, very uneven and (on the whole) unfair, and likely not to be resolved for perhaps even decades. I recognize that there's a valid argument for the existence of conspiratorial motivations for the fund, but I'm not persuaded that the ostensive rationale isn't sufficient.

I'm personally really ambivalent about our tort system. The liberal in me likes and supports the features of it that the pragmatic part of me thinks are causing some of the biggest problems. I'd like to keep the "little guy having a chance against giant corporations" aspect of it but somehow correct the insane capriciousness of it. For every legitimate target there ten who are targets just because they're the ones with the deep pockets. For every reasonable judgment, there's a mind-bogglingly high judgment and a mind-bogglingly low judgment—often because of the whims of that particular jury. I'm not at all comfortable with the assumption that litigation would have meant a form of economic justice for the victims' families. Quite the opposite.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:50 PM on September 26, 2004

EB—I don't think an end run around the system is ever good. The courts are set up for appropriate redress.

How is it an end run? People were offered an alternative, AFAIK with no coercion, and most took it. By that logic, agreeing to arbitration is also evil, as it's an end run around the system.

Getting cases out of the courts is usually a good idea.

The Port Authority should have paid out for having unsafe buildings, and New York City should have paid out for having shitty radios.

That makes the fund seem like a good idea to me. What, you want to drag that poor guy who designed the towers in 196x, or the Port Authority, into court 3000 times because he didn't have the foresight to correctly predict trends in airliner size, correctly predict future political events, and combine them to realize that someone might, in the future, take aircraft larger than any currently in service with a maximized fuel load and intentionally crash them into the towers at cruising speed? Should he also have planned for terrorists crashing interplanetary rocket-cars into the towers at relativistic speed?

What would you say if the courts reached the decision that almost any unbiased court would reach -- that the buildings were entirely safe for any reasonable range of foreseeable events, which this wasn't, so they were neither negligent nor responsible and nobody gets paid nothin'? Not that that outcome would be likely, since it's nigh-on impossible for the defendants in a case like that to get a fair trial, but hey.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:08 PM on September 26, 2004

That should be "Should he also have planned for terrorists crashing interplanetary rocket-cars into the towers at Mach 15, or designed the buildings for safe evacuation following an anarcho-libertarian neural net on Luna named Mike chucking rocks into it at relativistic speed?"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 PM on September 26, 2004

I'm not saying it's right, but that is one of the tenets of tort law. Well, at least it is in the UK and Australia.

Oh, here too. And it's bullshit. I read an interview with two different widows of 9/11 -- one's husband was an I-banker, the other a janitor. The i-banker's widow was lamenting that she wouldn't be able to keep up the mortgage on her $750,000 home without his income, not to mention the expense of keeping the children in private school, the payments on the Lexus... etc. Meanwhile the janitor's widow was looking at eviction.

Makes me want to throw up in that self-entitled woman's mouth.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:14 PM on September 26, 2004

Thanks nakedcodemonkey, but it doesn't look like Freecache is working anymore.

I wish I had the time to figure out how to set up a torrent tracker. If anyone wants to create a torrent out of the file just let me know and I'll send you a link.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 9:33 PM on September 26, 2004

Erin Brockovich?
posted by lightweight at 12:27 AM on September 27, 2004

Well, depending on seeds, I could prolly host a little tracker for it, providing of course, my meagre upstream doesn't get vaporlocked...
posted by Samizdata at 12:57 AM on September 27, 2004

The father of a friend of mine was at ground zero on 9-11-01 helping with the rescue effort. For days, he and everybody else down there could hear screams and pleas from people trapped dozens of feet below the rubble. But there was little to nothing at all that could be done. There was just too much material piled on top of them. Their cries went silent after 3 days or so - they were dying of course. My friend's Dad talks about how at the end of the day, his trousers were soaked and covered in blood and flesh from the knee down. One day, when he unrolled the cuff at the ankle of his pants, a finger rolled out onto the ground... hair and skin tucked down between his socks and boots. His first-hand stories and pictures of that week are admittedly riveting, amazingly heroic and frighteningly sad. My friend's father is a curious fellow... absurdly smart, talented and aware, and strong willed for sure. But four of his friends, people that accompanied him to NYC that week to help save lives, have since committed suicide. I wonder if the "Jersey Girls" have considered these victims as well?
posted by Witty at 2:57 AM on September 27, 2004

A: They're not victims, Witty, but heroic volunteers, who are scarred for life too.
B: They were part of the fund: * Health Screenings & Treatments: 1,174 rescue and recovery workers treated - First responders, day laborers and volunteers who were part of the rescue or recovery effort in Lower Manhattan were exposed to potentially hazardous environmental conditions. More than 1,100 workers had more than 3,000 free visits with clinicians to screen for and treat respiratory and psychological disorders that resulted from 9/11. I believe many private charities and orgs were involved too, as well as the many NYers (including me) who lined the West Side Highway to cheer them on, thinking that they were incredibly heroic to go down to that fiery pile and try to get to people that might have been pulled out alive.

The Jersey Girls are supposed to do what for them? Their loved ones were those people crying out under the rubble. The fighting they do will help them and future volunteers not have to do and see what they did, God willing. (and we all breathed that toxic air here, and were lied to by the administration saying it was safe.)
posted by amberglow at 4:49 AM on September 27, 2004

No ROU, the Port Authority should be busted for--off the top of my head--locking the roof doors, not having a plan to evacuate people above a fire & telling people in the second tower not to evacuate.

But yeah, I would not have a problem if a court decided that all reasonable precautions were taken and therefore nobody gets anything. I don't think you deserve something special just because your family member died in a particularly spectacular manner. People die everyday. That's just the way it is. If someone's negligence was partially responsible, take it to court. If you think people ought to have some recourse to government aid when in a bad way economically--and I do--then set it up so everyone can access such help.

But you aren't better for dying rich or dying on September 11, and I don't like my government acting like you are.
posted by dame at 6:25 AM on September 27, 2004

Thanks to Chuck the Feinberg lecture has been posted to alt.binaries.documentaries and alt.binaries.multimedia if anyone is interested in watching it.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 4:37 PM on September 27, 2004

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