“We pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.”
— President George W. Bush
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”
— Sandy Dahl, wife of
Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl
Today marks the 14th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history. It was a day that forever changed our nation, our political environment and our relations with the rest of the world. All of those old enough to remember the day can recall in great detail where they were and how they came to hear about and view what was happening.
And yet, the passage of time brings much change. Construction on the World Trade Center site has produced a stunning memorial and the massive new Freedom Tower. This year’s college freshmen were just 4 years old that day. My children — both born after 2001 — now come home from school and ask me to tell them what I remember of events they know only from history class.
The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, spurred numerous lawsuits. Many were settled out of court, some were determined to be frivolous and even now, 14 years later, a few are still pending. Those lawsuits brought redress for victim’s families, sought to expose shortcomings in security and airline procedures, and even aimed to discover more information about the attacks than was released in the official 9/11 report.
Many of the lawsuits were wrongful death actions seeking financial compensation for the spouses, children and other relatives of those killed in the attacks. The very last of those lawsuits was settled out of court just days after the 10th anniversary of the attacks four years ago. That case involved Mark Bavis, a former professional hockey player who was working as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings when he boarded United Airlines flight 175. He was seated in row 19 when the plane was crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
The suit, against United Airlines and a security company named Huntleigh USA Corp., was filed by Bavis’ family in what they said was an attempt to expose severe problems in airline safety policies. They claimed that the security screeners employed by Huntleigh at New England airports were unaware the security level had been raised, were not informed about the identities of specific known terrorists, and many spoke such limited English that they could not effectively communicate with one another.
Not all 9/11-related lawsuits were successful. The corporation that owned the building known as 7 World Trade Center sued a number of entities, including United Airlines. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit because United Airlines had no connection with the destruction of 7 World Trade Center. It was, instead, American Airlines flight 11 that crashed into the north tower, ultimately bringing down 7 WTC too. The same corporation had sued Con Edison electric company in another complaint that was dismissed as being frivolous.
The Supreme Court has even been involved. In June 2014, the court declined to hear an appeal over the dismissal of relatives of Osama bin Laden from a lawsuit filed by the relatives of more than 3,000 9/11 survivors, victims’ relatives and insurance companies. The suit was allowed to proceed against al-Qaida, several banks and other organizations tied to the financing of terrorist organizations.
Just last month, a federal lawsuit in New York was given the green light to proceed to trial. The plaintiffs in that case say that they intend to call as witnesses several investigators from the 9/11 commission and that they believe those witnesses will tie the Saudi embassy and the Saudi government to the funding of some of the hijackers. The official 9/11 commission report did not draw those conclusions and it is unclear whether the plaintiffs in that matter will be able to do so.
The passage of time does little to lessen the grief of survivors and nothing to diminish the many heroic acts of that day. It does, however, provide more time for the legal system to proceed and attempt to find fair and just conclusions to the many lawsuits surrounding the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
David Hejmanowski is the judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of Delaware County Common Pleas Court.