Wednesday, 18 December 2013


In a New York Times article today about the $135 million settlement of Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald's lawsuit against American Airlines for negligence on 9/11 the reporter, Benjamin Weiser, led his third paragraph thus:

'No amount of money, of course, could compensate Cantor or its families for the losses on Sept. 11'.

While the platitude may be, in the sense of all platitudes, true, in the context of a newspaper story, it's statement stands as opinion, not reporting. Indeed, were the platitude true in any but the abstract sense, no one would file such lawsuits at all, since the compensation received would be worthless.

But the reality is that Cantor, who had offices in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and lost 658 employees, about two-thirds of their work force there, claimed they had suffered 'unspeakable losses' and went on to delineate the unspeakable at sums as much as $1 billion, after insurance recovery, specifying $800 million for 'interruption of business' (that is, because of losing their employees) and the other $200 million for property damage. Unspeakable indeed. Currency, it turns out, is America's real currency of grief.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein noted that New York law does not allow an employer to sue for the wrongful death of its employees, and otherwise limited the companies damages. In a separate case, Hellerstein also dismissed a suit by World Trade Center Properties, who apparently had already received more in insurance settlement than they had already lost.

Cantor employees were already compensated either from the federal fund set up for 9/11 victims, or from their own lawsuits. Hellerstein has been the point-man for suits filed by victims' families, survivors, responders, property owners, and the like, all seeking compensation for things which, as Mr. Weiser reports, cannot be compensated. And many, like illnesses caused by the dust raised by the towers' crash, that can.

Had any suits against American Airlines gone to trial, they would have had to prove that the airline had been negligent in preventing a terrorist attack; American would have argued they had done everything expected and required by government experts (ie: by law) before the 9/11 gang used the planes themselves as weapons. The blame might have spread, from that point, to the Federal Aviation Adminstration, or indeed to various government agencies charged with fighting terrorism.

It's also curious that Cantor employees hadn't thought to sue the World Trade Towers, for not constructing a building that would better withstand collapse, or Cantor, for not providing better facilities and training for escape in emergencies. In the 20/20 hindsight world of victims, grief and compensation, it would seem only fitting.

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