Lawsuits: Saudis, Airlines, Bush Face Litigation
by Joe Taglieri, FTW Staff
[Copyright 2002, From The
Wilderness Publications, www.copvcia.com. All Rights Reserved.
May be copied, distributed, or posted on the Internet for
non-profit purposes only.]
Aug. 27, 2002, 12:00 PDT (FTW) -- Many surviving family
members of those who died Sept. 11 are opting to file lawsuits
to obtain compensation for the deaths of their loved ones.
Most recently, a $1 trillion lawsuit on behalf of more than
500 family members of 9-11 victims was filed Aug. 15 in
U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. The 259-page complaint
names 100 defendants, including members of Saudi Arabia's
royal family, the Republic of Sudan, seven Saudi and Sudanese
international banks, Islamic charities, Saudi government
officials, individual Saudi financiers, and Osama bin Laden.
The Saudi royals named are Prince Mohammad al-Faisal, Prince
Sultan, and Prince Turki al-Faisal.
"It's not the money. We want to do something to get
at these people. There's nothing else we can do,'' said
Irene Spina, as quoted by the Associated Press. Spina's
daughter, Lisa L. Trerotola, died in the World Trade Center.
Referring to Saudi Arabia, lead attorney Ronald Motley was
quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "That kingdom
sponsors terrorism. This is an insidious group of people."
Motley heads a hefty team of lawyers, all with significant
experience litigating cases pertaining to terrorism or international
law, according to a statement on the website of Motley's
South Carolina law firm. Allan Gerson, who represented families
of those killed in the crash of Pan Am 103 and a member
of the Council on Foreign Relations, is also part of the
plaintiffs' legal team. Gerson and Motley are joined
by several other attorneys, including John D'Amato,
Guy Molinari, who is a former Republican congressman from
New York City's Staten Island, and the Pennsylvania
firm Mellon, Webster & Shelly.
The 15-count complaint charges the defendants with wrongful
death, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress,
aiding and abetting terrorists, conspiracy, and racketeering.
The day the suit was filed, Motley stated publicly that
damages would come primarily from assets held by the defendants
in the U.S. The following week some $200 billion of Saudi
assets were withdrawn from the U.S. economy.
Another batch of federal lawsuits, 38 in total, have been
or soon will be filed on behalf of victims' family
members by attorneys Mary Schiavo and John Greaves of the
Los Angeles firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford &
Schiavo. Greaves and Schiavo's first court filings
were in January.
These suits target United and American airlines as well
as the security firms Huntleigh USA Corp. and Argenbright
Security Inc. The security firms were contracted by the
airlines at the airports where the four doomed flights originated
on Sept. 11.
The companies are charged with negligence, reckless conduct,
and conscious disregard for rights and safety.
The suits are presently on hold until at least late-September,
according to Greaves. This is because U.S. District Court
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New
York issued an order in July placing the case's discovery
phase on hold. This was in response to a request from the
Justice Department to do so.
Discovery will remain on hold until "the Department
of Justice and I work out a way to protect what's
known as Security Sensitive Information (SSI)," said
Greaves. "That's the dilemma. We need that evidence
to prove our case, but at the same time, it's protected
from public disclosure by the federal aviation regulations."
Greaves, a former airline pilot, said he is in the process
of drafting a proposed protective order regarding SSI "which
may or may not be accepted by the Justice Department."
Schiavo and Greaves' next scheduled meeting with Justice
Department attorneys is Sept. 20.
Schiavo was quoted by the American Free Press as saying,
"the purpose of protecting information should be in
the interests of defending national security. SSI should
not be used as a shield to hide FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]
and TSA [Transportation Security Administration] negligence
Schiavo, a former Transportation Department inspector general
and aviation expert, has also been an outspoken critic of
the government's hastily established September 11th
Victim Compensation Fund and the aviation security legislation
signed into law late last year by President Bush. She claims
the fund unfairly limits family members' rights towards
"In the wake of Sept. 11, Congress retroactively changed
the law to protect air carriers, aircraft manufacturers,
airport sponsors, or persons with a property interest in
the World Trade Center from any liability other than the
limits of their liability coverage," Schiavo said
in a speech delivered Sept. 29 before a conference of the
National Air Disaster Alliance and Foundation. Text of the
speech is available through her firm's website and
was updated Dec. 7 to reflect changes in the law as of Nov.
For those who want answers as to what actually led to these
air disasters and the deaths of their loved ones, the victim
compensation fund falls severely short, claim Schiavo and
"The biggest problem with the fund is that no questions
may be asked as to how this could have happened,"
said Greaves. "Plus, life insurance and other collateral
sources of compensation are deducted from the award, but
fault need not be proven. You get paid now, but less than
the potential of a lawsuit."
"Our clients want accountability. They can't
do that if they simply take a 'no fault' payment
from the fund," Schiavo stated in a press release.
"[These families are] suing because they want answers,
and they want change."
It is important to note the distinction between the Schaivo
suits and the $1 trillion suit filed against Saudi and Islamic
defendants. Plaintiffs who have accepted compensation from
the federal victim fund are not precluded from taking part
in the Saudi suit, however, those compensated by the fund
may not sue the airlines, security companies or U.S. government
entities, according to the fund's guidelines.
Greaves maintains his suits will take several years to litigate.
He said possible future named defendants include the port
authorities of Boston and New York/New Jersey, which are
the government agencies that operate the airports where
the doomed flights originated.
These entities were not named in the initial court filings
because proper legal procedure dictates that plaintiffs
must first file an "administrative claim," which
is a formal complaint made to an administrative government
agency outlining a party's intended legal action.
Reconstructing just what exactly happened on Sept. 11 is
the primary challenge in successfully litigating these suits
for his clients, Greaves said. "We want to know how
these hijackers got into these terminals with those weapons
and got on board these aircraft with those weapons,"
he said. "They had weapons, that's clear. We
don't know exactly what weapons they had.
"The airlines take the position that the only weapons
they had were box cutters and knives with blades less than
four inches, which they say is not covered by the regulations
pertaining to dangerous and deadly weapons," Greaves
continued. "I don't agree. We've got evidence
that a knife with a blade of less than four inches is the
weapon of choice of hijackers. And they're waving
that? That's okay, you can come on board with that?"
Ellen Mariani, whose husband, Neil, died when United Airlines
Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center's South Tower,
was the first family member to file suit on Dec. 20. At
that time she was represented by Chicago-based Nolan Law
Group but is now represented by Schiavo and Greaves.
"I chose the lawsuit knowing I had 90 days to turn
back to the fund," Mariani wrote in a July statement
to Judge Hellerstein's court. "I did not turn
back because the truth would never be told...When I ask
why Sept. 11 had to happen, my family and I deserve an answer
that may become clear during a full, fair and complete investigation."
In addition to the above mentioned legal actions, San Francisco-based
attorney Stanley G. Hilton has filed a class-action federal
lawsuit that names President Bush and members of his Cabinet
as defendants. The named Cabinet members include Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Attorney General John
"I hope [the lawsuit] will expose the fact that there
are numbers of people in the government, including Bush
and his top assistants, who wanted this to happen,"
Hilton was quoted as saying by the San Francisco Examiner
Hilton, a former aide to Bob Dole when he served in the
U.S. Senate, told the Examiner he represents the families
of 14 victims, and 400 plaintiffs are involved nationwide.
The suit seeks $7 billion in damages and was filed June
3 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Hilton could not be reached for comment, so the case's
present status since its June filing is not known at this
time. However, court documents show a "Case Management
Conferencevia telephone" is scheduled for Sept.
The crux of this suit hinge's on Hilton's allegation
that Bush allowed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to happen
for political gain. According to the Examiner Hilton, who
claims to have sources within the U.S. intelligence community,
stated the Bush Administration ignored intelligence information
warning of the impending attacks and refused to round up
suspected terrorists known to the FBI and other intelligence
agencies before 9-11.
Also according to the Examiner, Hilton claimed the Bush
Administration benefited from installing an Afghan puppet
regime friendly to U.S. oil interests.