In a ruling that will only add insult to already injured lives and businesses, a U.S. District Judge ruled in New York City on Wednesday to allow families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue airlines for negligence. The decision, considered long overdue by some, is just another manifestation of angry citizens unable to find somewhere to place the blame.
The tragedy of Sept. 11 is still fresh in everyone’s minds, especially after this week’s onslaught of survivor stories and retrospectives. But suing already faltering airlines will not alleviate grief. Monetary compensation cannot ease the blow of the loss of a loved one.
Further, the logic behind the ruling does not stand up to scrutiny. The judge cited that “the hijacking and crashing of a jetliner was a foreseeable risk,” making the airlines responsible for allowing the hijackers on the plane and the hijackings to occur. The hijackers were armed not with weapons of mass destruction, or even guns, but with box cutters.
If the federal government, with all its varied resources and information, could not predict the attacks (as it claims), it is unfair to expect the airlines to do so. While recent reports imply that the government may have had some forewarning, the fact remains it did not share it with the rest of the world. Perhaps if it had, a warning flag might have gone up that morning.
The horror of Sept. 11 will not go away anytime soon, especially for those families that experienced it firsthand. But to expect money, even millions of dollars, to heal that pain is unrealistic. Funds have been set up to provide for families of victims. Tying up lawyers and courts in endless litigation for a settlement is not what those families or this country need.
Casting the blame on a number of airlines that provide an important backbone to our already weakened economy might very well be the worst way of trying to compensate families for their losses. It will not only fail to ease their pain, it will also drive us deeper into the recession the government claims does not exist. The drop in business after Sept. 11 already forced Delta Airlines, among other companies, to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This ruling may well force more companies down the same path.