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Trial Lawyers Care Program

From the Earliest Days After 9/11, Trial Lawyers Cared

By Hansen & Rosasco

Lawyers and members of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) formed the Trial Lawyers Care (TLC) program. It assembled a massive volunteer effort to support the survivors and family members of victims of the attack and protect the civil court system from becoming another casualty of the attack.

On September 11, 2001, even before the towers had fallen in Lower Manhattan, responders rushed into extreme danger to rescue people from the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

In the aftermath of the attacks, thousands of New Yorkers, along with thousands of others from all over the country, came together to use used their skills to comfort and help survivors.  This also including more than 1,100 trial lawyers who stepped forward to provide free legal services as soon as then-President George W. Bush authorized the initial September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to help those most devastated by the attacks obtain compensation.

A Moratorium on Civil Lawsuits

On September 12, 2001, the AAJ committee authorized a press statement that called for a moratorium on civil lawsuits related to the attacks. It also informed the White House and Congress that the organization was willing to consider supporting federal remedies for the victims, as seeking compensation through the airlines was a losing proposition.

The two airlines that had planes involved in the attack had only $3.2 billion worth of insurance between them, and the property damage in New York alone was pegged at more than $50 billion.

The 700 members of AAJ from states across the nation approved the statement, and the moratorium on civil claims-though not enforceable by law-lasted several months and was only broken when an insurance company decided to file a claim against their insured to disclaim coverage relating to the loss of the World Trade Center buildings.

The Trial Lawyers Care Program Leaps Into Existence Alongside the VCF

Two hours after releasing their statement, the AAJ committee learned that there were already lobbyists from the airlines seeking a bailout program that would include loan guarantees and cash and immunity from civil actions taken by victims of the attack and their family members. Within days, they were meeting with members of Congress to discuss the possibility of a federal program that could provide compensation. Members of AAJ began to consider how a bailout bill for the airlines could also include funding for the victims, finally agreeing that the federal program should allow tort-style claims in which victims would not need to prove liability or have their damages capped. Both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly approved the plan only ten days after the terror attack and only 60 hours after AAJ first proposed it to Congress.

Attorneys From All Over the Country Wanted to Help

On September 24, 2001, less than two weeks after the terror attacks took place, Trial Lawyers Care was launched to provide free legal services to 9/11 survivors and the family members of victims. Several state trial lawyers associations were already considering similar efforts, and the AAJ committee reached out to them to get them on board with TLC. The first state trial lawyers associations to join the effort included those from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia.

TLC Trial Lawyers Cared, was incorporated in October 2001, with bar leaders from the states most heavily impacted by the attacks making up the majority of the board. There were no policies, no office, and very few of the officers or board members had ever run a pro bono program, and certainly not one of this magnitude.

Within days, the organization had its own office space, temporary use of AAJ staff, and bridge funding offered by state bar associations and other donors to pay for the undertaking. The organization was officially launched with a press conference in New York City that announced an email address and a toll-free phone number that victims could use to make contact.

As word about the program’s mission spread in the coming months, the TLC officers, board members, and staff were inundated with offers to help from attorneys across the country. Criteria were established for vetting volunteers, including the agreement required by volunteers that attorneys and their firms would not handle any for-fee claims resulting from 9/11.

More than 200 pro bono witnesses joined the attorneys, who all wanted to lend their assistance to victims seeking compensation through the VCF.

A Race to the Finish Line as Time to File Ran Out

The filing deadline to receive compensation through the original VCF was December 21, 2003. In November 2002, the AAJ leadership intensified its outreach efforts to contact as many victims as possible who could still seek funding from the program before the filing deadline.

On the final day before time ran out, TLC’s offices remained open through the evening to provide last-minute assistance, meeting the deadline for all claims, including those brought by 50 ironworkers from the Mohawk Nation near Montreal.

The Tally on TLCs Success

At the close of the original Victim Compensation Fund, TLC considered these highlights a sign of success in their mission:

  • More than 3,500 families requested free legal assistance through the program.
  • One thousand seven hundred thirty-nine claimants hailing from 35 states and 11 countries were eligible to file claims for compensation through the fund.
  • $350 million in free legal services was provided to victims and their families through TLC, utilizing the volunteer efforts provided by more than 1,100 attorneys from every state in the nation, plus Australia, Mexico, England, and three Canadian provinces.
  • The lawyers working on these cases donated a combined total of more than 100 years of work.
  • In all, the original  provided over $7 million in compensation to more than 5,500 responders, survivors, and family members of victims, including nearly 3,000 death claims. The awards ranged from $500 to $8.6 million.

There Is Still so Much Work to Do

When the National September 11th Memorial Museum opened in Washington, DC in 2014, TLC’s report to Congress, entitled “Thousands of Heroes, The Rest of Us Could Only Help,” was part of the collection. The organization is still in existence, encouraging community outreach projects by trial lawyers. One of the leading projects undertaken by the TLC membership is the End Distracted Driving (EndDD), a non-profit organization started by a Philadelphia trial lawyer that provides education about the dangers of driver distractions.

The VCF was reauthorized in 2011 with new eligibility requirements and began again providing compensation to those most severely impacted by the terror attacks on 9/11. The program obtained permanent reauthorization in 2019 so that individuals can file a compensation claim any time before October 1, 2090.

Several firms have accepted pro bono clients after the events of September 2001, providing legal assistance to those affected by the tragedy. Since the VCF reopened in 2011, the fund received claims from individuals living in every state in the nation, every U.S. territory, and 31 foreign countries. Survivors will probably file additional claims for many more years as more medical conditions develop due to 9/11 toxic exposure and more survivors learn about the program.

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Posted under: 9/11 Victim Compensation, The Victims' Compensation Fund, World Trade Center Health Program

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