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Post date: December 20 2001

Spitzer Criticizes DOJ Regulations On September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

Attorney General Spitzer today criticized the proposed regulations governing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and called upon the Department of Justice (DOJ) to correct the many flaws in the regulations.

"Congress demonstrated its great generosity by creating the Victim Compensation Fund, thereby opening the door to monetary recovery for those injured in the September 11th attacks and the families of those killed," said the Attorney General. "Unfortunately, the regulations issued by DOJ today are unduly restrictive and subvert the intent of Congress, which was to fully compensate all victims of the tragedy. The regulations are deficient in many ways, and I therefore am calling upon DOJ to fix these problems before the regulations become final."

Attorney General Spitzer identified numerous fundamental flaws in the DOJ regulations. Most significantly, the regulations:

  • eliminate the right of injured victims to file claims if they continue to work despite their severe pain and suffering;
  • require contemporaneous records demonstrating medical treatment within 24 hours after the attack, even though:
    (1) there are no records for the hundreds of injured victims treated at emergency triage locations on September 11th; and
    (2) many other victims first sought to reunite with their families, and did not seek medical treatment for their injuries until September 12th;
  • provide no protections for undocumented aliens whose spouses were killed or who were themselves injured in the attacks;
  • effectively preclude recovery by unmarried life partners;
  • ignore the statutory mandate that victims be able to present evidence of their losses, and instead determine that all individuals killed in the attacks are presumed to have suffered exactly $250,000 in "non-economic" losses, regardless of individual circumstances, and permit increases in that amount only upon a showing of "extraordinary circumstances";
  • reduce awards by the amount of collateral compensation that the claimant has received, even if the collateral compensation was unrelated to the damages for which recovery is sought;
  • state that charitable donations will not be counted as "collateral source" payments resulting in reductions of awards, but at the same time authorize the Special Master to determine that charitable payments are collateral sources, which will deter charities from providing immediate payments to the victims; and
  • provide that even unconscionably low damage awards are binding and unappealable.

"While the regulations appear to contemplate significant financial awards to the families of the deceased victims, there are numerous flaws in the regulations that close the door to many others," said Attorney General Spitzer. "Consider, for example, a secretary who worked in the World Trade Center, walked down 80 flights after the first plane hit, was caught in the cloud of debris following the collapse, suffered severe respiratory distress and was carried by a firefighter to a triage location for medical treatment, went to see her own doctor the next day, and is now traumatized and unable to return to work. This is exactly the type of person that Congress intended to compensate, but she cannot file a claim under the DOJ regulations."

"Since September 11th, Congress has passed laws placing caps on the liability of the airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airport operators and others, thereby severely limiting the ability of the victims of the attacks to recover their damages in court. In return, the Victim Compensation Fund was supposed to provide full compensation to all victims of the attack, and to provide a fast and efficient method for doing so. The regulations promulgated today by DOJ violate the language of the federal law, the intent of Congress and the will of the American people, by declaring many victims ineligible to recover funds, and limiting the ability of all other victims to prove the full extent of their losses."

"These regulations are subject to a 30-day public comment period, after which DOJ will be issuing the regulations in final form," the Attorney General added. "It is essential that DOJ amend these regulations to address the many deficiencies noted above, and thereby ensure full compensation for all of the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks."