Friday, December 21, 2001
Trial Lawyers Assn. Offering Free Legal Aid to Survivors of Sept. 11 Victims
By NICK YULICO, Staff Writer
Victims’ families and injured survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks can receive free legal advice and representation if they choose to apply for tax-free federal aid, beginning today.
Trial Lawyers Care, a non-profit subsidiary of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, was set up by thousands of lawyers across the country to provide free legal services to the terrorist attack victims who are eligible and choose to make claims under the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which was part of a $15 million airline bailout bill.
With the regulations for the fund drafted, victims can now opt into the federal plan or choose to file lawsuits.
The regulations announced yesterday by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the special master for the fund, are only presumptive guidelines for victims to determine what they might receive if they choose the plan and forfeit their rights to sue for damages.
ATLA spokesman Carlton Carl said the group has received 3,000 responses from lawyers willing to volunteer. Around 900 victims have contacted them so far, he said, and the 250 deemed eligible by them for the fund have been matched with lawyers.
If a victim chooses a private suit over the fund, Trial Lawyers Care will direct the person to outside attorneys for representation, Carl explained.
Each reward from the fund will depend upon the individual circumstances of the claimant.
“It is important to ensure that people have a sense of what they might receive from the program before they decide to apply,” Feinberg said in a press release issued through the Department of Justice.
The presumed non-economic loss, such as loss of companionship and parental guidance, for each deceased victim is $250,000, plus an additional $50,000 for the widowed spouse and each child who lost the parent.
Economic losses will be determined by calculating the projected lost lifetime financial contributions of the decedent. Decedents’ salaries, ages and family sizes will be a determining factor.
Congress required deducting “collateral source compensation” such as benefits from other government programs and insurance benefits from the reward. Charitable gifts will not be deducted.
While ATLA disagrees with some of the regulations, Carl said, “if [the fund is] administered properly, the bulk of people will receive fair and reasonable compensation.”
Recipients of the awards will be the duly-appointed personal representatives of the decedents. Victims’ families may receive an immediate $50,000 tax-free, up-front, by electing to make a claim under the fund.
Feinberg also said in the release that his office would ensure that every family who lost a loved one receive at least a minimum level of compensation from all sources.
“For victims who were married or had children, that minimum will be $500,000—meaning that they will receive a combined total of at least $500,000 from our program, other state and federal programs, life insurance and other compensation (excluding gifts frrm charities),” Feinberg explained. “The minimum of deceased victims who were single will be $300,000.”
Feinberg did not specify how his office would ensure the minimum levels of compensation.
“We trust that Mr. Feinberg will assure that no family is shortchanged with one-size-fits-all justice by the government that promised them full compensation,” Larry Stewart, president of Trial Lawyer Care, said in a statement. “For the vast majority of victims, the government fund will help them rebuild their lives, because it guarantees prompt, long-term help.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company