The ‘Silent’ 9/11 Settlement

By Shaun Mullen

Four of the comparatively few families who declined to participate in the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund have settled claims against the airline and other companies involved with American Airlines Flight 77, which was flown into the Pentagon.The families assert that they opted for litigation to learn more about what went wrong.

Said Irene Golinski of Columbia, Maryland, whose husband, Ronald was aboard Flight 77 and one of 125 people to die at the Pentagon:

“I really didn’t go into it for the money, I went into it for the answers.”

The families, however, will be unable to share those answers because of a broad gag order that is part of the settlement, the financial terms of which also are confidential. It therefore is not known if the families received more than they would have from the compensation fund set up by Congress after the terror attacks.

Participants in the fund, administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, had to agree to not sue the airlines.

Feinberg was appointed by Attorney General John Ashcroft to be Special Master of the fund, who worked for 33 months pro bono.

In a Herculean task, Feinberg had to decide how much each family would receive based on how much each victim would have earned in a full lifetime. He personally presided over more than 900 of the 1,600 family hearings and eventually awarded a total of $7 billion to 97 percent of the families. The average payout was $1.8 million.

I’m with blogger Ed Morrissey in having problems with the hold-out families, who to put the most charitable face on their litigation saw their seemingly altruistic intentions undercut by their not being able to get paid if they talked.

Captain Ed writes that:

“This bothers me more than most settlements of this nature. The families who sued, who opted out of the VCF to do so, insisted that the money was not important to them. They wanted answers to how the failures occurred, and decided that their separate lawsuits could provide more answers than government investigations. Apparently they have somehow been satisfied as a result of that process – but can’t tell us why. They agreed to remain silent as a condition of the settlement.

“Why? If truth was that important to them, why do they now choose silence and a payoff instead of revealing the deficiencies of the system that led to the deaths of almost 3,000 people? Given their statement of mission, it makes it seem as though they either learned nothing more than what the official investigations revealed and took the money rather than admit it, or that they let the airlines off the hook for a substantial amount of cash.”

Some 13 other non-victims fund cases are still pending.