ILNews

Sept. 11 victims fund chief shares poignant, practical experience

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Kenneth Feinberg brought tears to many of the attorneys who heard him speak Tuesday at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis about overseeing the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Giving people an opportunity to be heard validates the process,” Feinberg said, recalling some 900 hearings that took place in the weeks after the attacks, when Congress set up an unprecedented and uncapped victim compensation fund. Feinberg said the stories remain powerful and haunting.

He relayed the experience of talking with a mother of two whose firefighter husband died in the response to the attack on the World Trade Center. The woman insisted she be compensated within weeks.

When Feinberg asked why, the woman said she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had only 10 weeks to live; the children’s father had been the parent who was going to raise them. Feinberg said aid was expedited to establish a trust for the children, and the mother died soon after.

“The stories you hear, you can’t make up,” he said.

Feinberg spoke on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks and participated in a panel discussion with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and attorneys involved with efforts to provide compensation to Indiana State Fair stage collapse victims. The event was moderated by I.U. McKinney School of Law professor Robert Katz.

Zoeller praised Feinberg’s pro bono assistance in helping devise a plan to distribute the $5 million allowed by the Indiana Tort Claims Act to State Fair stage collapse victims. Zoeller said he contacted Feinberg for advice on handling compensation and Feinberg volunteered in a spirit that was “overflowing with generosity.”

“Ken said, ‘I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, what you’re going through,’” Zoeller recalled.

Feinberg offered three tips for success for people who deal with victim compensation funds: Get the money out fast, get it out without condition, and don’t expect thanks or appreciation.

“The biggest mistake I ever made,” Feinberg said, was telling a man who lost his son on Sept. 11, “I know how you feel.” The man reacted with measured scorn, Feinberg said, saying that he knew Feinberg had a difficult job, then telling him, “you have no idea how I feel.”

“I’ll never say that again,” Feinberg said.

The advisability of victim compensation funds also is a question of law and public policy, Feinberg said, explaining that they can be seen as unjust “absent a tragedy that’s going to galvanize a community.”

He said even with the Sept. 11 victim compensation, questions arose from victims of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center of why they were uncompensated. “There are all sorts of challenges to the legitimacy of these programs,” Feinberg said. “Bad things happen to good people every day, and you don’t have access to an accelerated legal system.”

Feinberg, who also is overseeing the $20 billion compensation fund for the BP Gulf oil spill, is the preeminent expert in the administration of victim compensation funds. He has overseen compensation funds for the victims of the Virginia Tech school shootings that killed 32 and the Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed more than 100, among others.

Zoeller said Feinberg’s experience helped Indiana officials navigate the unfamiliar territory of mass disaster claims.

“While we hope we are never faced with another such tragedy on state property, the model he helped the attorney general’s office develop in the first phase of compensation could be utilized again here and in other states,” Zoeller said in a statement.

The Legislature has since approved an additional $6 million for the stage collapse victims.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

ADVERTISEMENT