- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Nine persons who lost family members in the September 11 terrorist attacks have accepted federal compensation checks, the Department of Justice said yesterday.

These are the first of 25 claimants who have been sent letters of proposed payments from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to accept them.

"It is our hope that these initial payments will result in increased filings by eligible victims and family members," said Kenneth R. Feinberg, a lawyer who was asked by Attorney General John Ashcroft in November to head the fund.

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The tax-free awards have averaged $1.3 million and ranged from $300,000 to $3 million.

Further information about the families or specific awards will not be released to protect the families' privacy, a spokesman for the fund said.

A total of 662 persons have filed claims with the fund, which was created by Congress 11 days after the terror attacks.

Approximately 3,300 people were killed or severely injured in the attacks; they or their family members are eligible to apply for compensation.

The awards are computed according to the age of the victim, their income and the size of their immediate family. The amount then is reduced by insurance and other death-benefit payments. Cash gifts from September 11-related charities are not counted as death benefits.

Thus, the family of a young victim earning less than $50,000 a year could receive between $610,000 and $1.4 million, while the family of a victim earning more than $200,000 a year could receive between $2.1 million and $3 million.

Families who take the federal compensation must agree not to sue the airlines or related parties for damages. Some families, however, have been reluctant to give up their day in court, especially for what they see as inadequate compensation.

When the fund's preliminary rules were announced in December, there was a $250,000 award for the deceased, plus a $50,000 "pain and mental anguish" award for a surviving spouse and each minor child.

Some families including ones associated with a group called the Families of September 11th said that wasn't enough.

When the final rule of the fund was announced in March, the "pain and mental anguish" award was doubled to $100,000 for a surviving spouse and each minor child.

There still hasn't been the kind of response officials have wanted. Earlier this year, Mr. Feinberg urged families to apply for the money because it is "vastly preferable to any litigation." The airlines' liability is capped at $6 billion and that must go to settle many claims, he said, which means "there's no money even if you win [in court]."

Families have until 2003 to enter the federal fund before it is closed.

Meanwhile, in February, seven families filed a $101 billion class-action lawsuit in federal court in the District against Osama bin Laden, Islamic terror groups, the 19 deceased hijackers and three Islamic governments for their roles in the terror attacks.

Last week, 600 families, calling themselves Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, filed a $1 trillion lawsuit in the same court against seven international banks, eight Islamic foundations and charities, the Bin Laden Group, three Saudi Arabian princes and the government of Sudan for aiding and abetting the al Qaeda terrorist network.

"We will pursue this action until justice is served and terrorism is stopped," Matt Sellitto, whose son died in the World Trade Center, told CNN on Aug. 15.

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