NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Legal Questions Surround Sept. 11 Attacks

October 18, 2001

Lawyers for survivors of victims of the Sept. 11 airline hijackings and crashes are not rushing into court just yet. That's because the events raised a number of issues that must be sorted out before legal responsibility can be determined -- and the appropriate procedures charted.

Victims who file lawsuits waive their shot at a sure recovery from the federally-funded Victim Compensation Fund Congress created last month.

But here are some of the possible defendants in future suits:

  • The federal airline bailout bill caps the airlines' liability at their insurance limit -- $1.5 billion per plane, or $6 billion for the four -- which might be sufficient to cover claims from passengers' heirs, but not those killed on the ground or the material damage done.
  • Despite the fact that the federal government usually enjoys broad immunity from lawsuits, a claimant could charge that it failed to act on State Department reports dating from 1993 indicating Osama bin Laden and his network were considering hijacking a dozen jumbo jets en route from the Philippines.
  • Another possible defendant is the Massachusetts Port Authority -- from whose Logan International Airport both flights that hit the World Trade Center took off -- on grounds related to faulty security.
  • The New York Port Authority and the Trade Center's new leaseholder could be cited as defendants.

Then, of course, there is Osama bin Laden. But more than 3,700 claims against him are already pending on behalf of victims of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Source: Milo Geyelin, "Lawyers Wonder, Who Is Liable for Sept. 11," Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)


Browse more articles on Government Issues