9/11 families criticized for 'silent' settlement in negligence case
Five Maryland families, all of whom agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the airline industry over their loved ones' deaths on Sept. 11, are drawing some pointed criticism for agreeing to keep silent about what they learned during the course of the lawsuit.
The families, who chose not to receive money through the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, say they pursued a legal route in hopes that their suits would give them a better understanding of the security breakdowns that allowed the tragedy to occur.
But whatever knowledge they gained, they're not allowed to talk about it.
In accordance with the agreement, which includes an undisclosed but substantial financial payment from American Airlines and security screening companies at Dulles International Airport, the families are barred from disclosing anything they have learned about airline-related failures and lapses on Sept. 11. The deal also allows the companies to dodge any admission to negligence.
"This bothers me more than most settlements of this nature," writes conservative blogger Edward Morrissey, who calls the deal "inimical to the plaintiffs' stated motives."
"The families who sued, who opted out of the VCF to do so, insisted that the money was not important to them," Morrissey continues. "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 ó but canít tell us why."
"If truth was that important to them," he asks, then "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?"
Shaun Mullen, of the blog The Moderate Voice, says he is with 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."
"I really didn't go into it for the money," Irene Golinski, one of the litigants whose husband was killed at the Pentagon, told the Washington Post. "I went into it for the answers."
Christine Fisher, however, another plaintiff in the suit, said in the Post that part of the reason she had chosen to eschew an award from the Victim Compensation Fund was the possibility of receiving a larger amount through the legal system.
"It was a financial decision, but it was also an emotional and accountability decision," she told told the paper.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the money will be used by the families to establish foundations in their lost loved ones' names.
The group's lead attorney, Keith Franz said in a press release that the fundamental goal of the lawsuit was to gain "answers as to how 9/11 was allowed to happen," continuing that his clients wanted "the airlines and security companies responsible for protecting the public to step up and share responsibility."
Writing at Captain's Quarters, Morrissey said the information gleaned from the lawsuits should be made public.
"These particular families are not the only people with standing on 9/11, he said. "If the depositions revealed failures, we should all know about them, if the truth really does mean more than the money."
Precise information about was found may never be released, but the Post did try to ascertain a rough estimate by asking Christine Fisher to grade "how much she has learned about the private companies' actions" on Sept. 11 on a scale from one to ten.
"Seven to eight," Fisher responded.
The following video clips are from CBS News, broadcast on October 3, 2007.