September 11 victims who sued airlines and their security contractors will have their cases heard for the first time almost six years after the hijacked plane attacks on the United States, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who has presided over all the lawsuits filed in Manhattan federal court by relatives of the victims, ordered six of the remaining 41 cases that have not settled to begin September 4.
But in an unusual move and a blow to some plaintiffs, the judge said the trial would only address damages and a second trial would have to be held to address liability. Some of the victim's relatives had hoped the issue of blame would not have to wait for a second trial.
Damages usually decide a monetary amount to compensate for injuries or loss, while liability decides who is responsible.
The judge said while he recognized some families wish to honor important values through the trial process, he hoped the damages trials would encourage resolutions in all the cases.
He said the damages trials would hasten the resolution of these and many other cases and thus be a significant step in mending the wounds left open by the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001.
Of the 41 cases left, claims were filed on behalf of victims of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, as well as United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The judge noted that many of the cases were destined to spend much longer in the courts.
Grieving widows and friends waiting for these proceedings to bring them closure may wait too long, he said, in deciding to push ahead with the damages trials.
The allegedly negligent acts committed by the airlines and their security contractors have no relation to the amount of compensatory damages that Plaintiffs would recover, the judge said.
The plaintiffs who sued the airlines decided against taking part in special victims compensation fund set up by the U.S. Congress that disbursed $5.99 billion to 2,880 families of deceased victims of the attacks.