New York lawyers have signed up to a pledge not to make money from claims relating to the World Trade Center attack.
Through the September 11th Compensation Act, the US government has set up a fund for "any individual (or relative of a deceased individual) who was physically injured or killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001." The US government has promised that those eligible for damages will have their claim settled within 120 days. In support, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) has pledged that every lawyer who gets involved in this expedited claims process will do so pro bono. The move will be announced officially today (15 October). NYSTLA lawyers pursuing claims through the government fund will give 100 per cent of the compensation to the claimants. Under the scheme, they cannot take contingency fees and there will be no findings of liability. Lawyers who take on the claims are also not permitted to do any other legal work relating to the attacks, explained NYSTLA executive director Jay Halfon. As the US government has set up an expedited process, the majority of claims are expected to go to the federal compensation fund. Claimants who choose to pursue compensation through the scheme are also forbidden to pursue any legal action relating to the disaster outside the scheme. The US government is planning to appoint a 'special master' to decide on the damages, who will be more of a fact finder than a judge. Des Collins of Collins Solicitors in Watford has also signed up. He believes he is the first UK lawyer to do so. He intends to offer pro bono help to the injured and to victims' families in the UK. On 12 September, the day after the attacks, the Association of Trial Lawyers in America urged a moratorium on any civil law suits that may arise from the events. Halfon believes that nearly 100 per cent of New York's trial lawyers have respected the moratorium. He said that, as it is not legally binding, New York lawyers are free to start working on the pro bono scheme straight away.