Families left angered by 'stingy' compensation

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The Independent US

Fifteen weeks on, the terrorist outrages of 11 September are leaving an increasingly unhappy financial legacy. The problem stems from the impossibility of measuring bereavement and suffering in terms of money. But it has been made worse, thanks to the generosity of ordinary Americans, by an excess of resources, not a shortage.

Fifteen weeks on, the terrorist outrages of 11 September are leaving an increasingly unhappy financial legacy. The problem stems from the impossibility of measuring bereavement and suffering in terms of money. But it has been made worse, thanks to the generosity of ordinary Americans, by an excess of resources, not a shortage.

At stake is the massive compensation available to the families of the 3,000 people who died and the 7,000 who were injured in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington and the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania. The prospect has provided comfort, but also inspired arguments, complaints and jealousies.

America responded to the disaster with a huge outpouring of aid. Charities collected at least $1.4bn (£1bn); the federal government set up a victims fund administered by the Justice Department, which may ultimately cost taxpayers $10bn or more; while local authorities in New York and Washington, as well as companies that lost employees in the attacks, have set up schemes.

Further ahead, in the most litigious society on Earth, lies the possibility of compensatory and punitive lawsuits against the airlines, the airport authorities, even Afghanistan and al-Qa'ida itself, which could drag on for years.

Yesterday The New York Times reported on the resentment of families of the 295 Marsh & McLennan employees killed in the World Trade Centre attack at what they see as a stingy offer from the company. Whereas some employers who lost staff that day have offered health insurance cover for life for families that have lost their breadwinner, Marsh & McLennan, the world's largest insurance broker, promised just a year of full coverage. Predictably, it was inundated with complaints. The company increased the period to three years – but announced it would pay for the extended coverage from MMC, a special $13m charity fund it had set up for victims.

A Marsh & McLennan spokeswoman pointed out that the company had to consider the collective interests of all the 57,000 people who worked for it. Moreover, US companies rarely give free health insurance for more than a few months to families of employees who die.

The Marsh & McLennan dispute reflects a wider issue. Are the victims of 11 September ultimately more deserving than an employee who dies at his desk of a heart attack ?

The same question is asked by relatives of the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, until 11 September the worst terrorist atrocity committed on US soil. Yet no comparable federal fund has been set up for the families of the 168 people who died then, even though many of the victims were employees of the US government.

Separate from, but adding to, these difficulties have been bureaucratic delays in disbursing money, which has been donated. Only this month did 13 major charities set up a database to keep track of which victims' families had received money, and how much. Some families claim they have so far received little or nothing.

The Justice Department scheme, weighted according to victims' age and future earning power, offers from several hundred thousand dollars to $3.5m or more to each family, over and above what they might receive from charity.

But the procedure is elaborate, and concern has been expressed that those who accept money from the fund must renounce future lawsuits against the airlines. Thus far only one such lawsuit has been filed. But other families may face a difficult choice: accept some money now, or take their chance in court for far more, but with no guarantee of success.

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