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Posted on Thu, Dec. 11, 2003

Some Sept. 11 victims have not claimed funds




Philadelphia Inquirer

Fetchet, of New Canaan, Conn., who lost her 24-year-old son, Brad, said her inaction has nothing to do with the possibility of litigation, and more to do with inertia.

"What's the problem with giving these families more time?" Fetchet asked.

Feinberg said that to make the process as simple as possible, the fund is requiring families to complete only the first two pages of the forms by Dec. 22.

Sensing that time was running out, Gary and Judi Reiss have decided to file a claim this week. The couple, from Lower Makefield, Pa., lost their son, 23-year-old Joshua, a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald who was killed when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.

Judi Reiss said she and her husband seriously thought about filing a lawsuit against the airlines or WTC owner. But in the end, they decided it would be too much trouble.

"It would be in court for 10 to 20 years," Judi Reiss said. "I can't do that."

Only 73 people have filed lawsuits against the airlines or trade center. Ellen Mariani, of southern New Hampshire, was one of the first. Mariani's husband, Louis Neil Mariani, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Not only is Mariani suing United Airlines for lax security, she also filed a second lawsuit in September in federal court here against President Bush and his administration.

Mariani, who is represented by Philip J. Berg, a Lafayette Hill, Pa., lawyer, charges that the Bush administration failed to heed repeated warnings from U.S. intelligence and foreign sources that terrorists might use commercial aircraft as weapons.

"Our government had knowledge of this and took no steps to prevent it," Berg said.

Mariani said no amount of money from the federal government would persuade her to back off from her legal fight.

"I would eat dirt before Feinberg got me into the fund," Mariani said.

"I am a person who wants to know what happened," said the 65-year-old grandmother, who is living off monthly Social Security checks. "Money is great, but not when it comes to a loved one being murdered."

Feinberg, a specialist in mass tort litigation who was assigned as special master of the fund, makes final determinations on the cash value of awards based on the professional and personal lives of victims.

At hearings, relatives can contest the size of awards, with Feinberg making all final rulings.

Fiona Havlish, of Lower Makefield, Pa., said Feinberg was accommodating and surprisingly well-informed about the details of her husband's case. Donald Havlish Jr. was an insurance company executive who was killed in the collapse of the South Tower.

"He had read every bit of information about me," Havlish said. "He was kind, compassionate. He listened and asked appropriate questions. I nearly fell off my chair."

She said she had hired her own expert to calculate her late husband's earnings potential. She said Feinberg considered the information when adjusting her final award.

"They do listen," Havlish said.

Some lawyers said Feinberg had shown a willingness to be flexible. In one move, he has allowed injured rescue workers to apply for compensation from the fund.

Michael Barasch, a lawyer with the New York law firm of Barasch McGarry, said he expected all of his 1,200 clients - mostly firefighters, police and sanitation workers who suffer respiratory disorders and have sued the City of New York - to drop their lawsuits and file claims with the victim-compensation fund.

Awards for injured ground zero workers have ranged from $300,000 to $1.2 million. "This will save the City of New York $350 million," Barasch said. "He's been wonderful about it."


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