Search and rescue efforts in lower Manhattan began at 8:46am when an American Airlines commercial airliner impacted the north tower of the World Trade Center. Hundreds of first responders rushed into the burning skyscraper as another hijacked commercial airliner, a United Airlines flight, descended over the Statue of Liberty and slammed into the south tower. By noon, the World Trade Center was a smoldering pile of rubble. First responders worked tirelessly through the night searching for survivors to no avail. Almost fifteen years later, hundreds have died from suspected medical complications from breathing in toxins at ground zero. Family members of the deceased and injured have waited years for justice.
Many families have sued and settled out of court with the airlines and security companies as well as the government of New York City. FEMA provided the government insurance coverage of almost $1 billion to protect against lawsuits, and help the city settle out of court. Not all lawsuits have been successful though. Residents of lower Manhattan failed to sue EPA Director Christine Whitman for her false statements declaring the air near ground zero safe to breathe. Recently 9/11 victims families failed to sue the Saudi Arabian government due to sovereign immunity protections. For many, Congress has often been the only source of justice.
In 2001, Congress set up the “Sept 11th Victim Compensation Fund” which lasted till 2003 and awarded $7 billion in compensation to families in exchange for agreement not to sue the airline companies. The fund received 2,963 claims and awarded 2,880 with an average payout of $2 million. After intense lobbying the fund was reopened in 2011 to further compensate injury claims and awarded 8,517 claims out of 9,366 eligible cases. Over $515 million has been rendered with payouts ranging from $10,000 to $4 million.
After 9 years of waiting, in 2010 lawmakers passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The law created health care coverage for first responders. Facing expiration in 2015, lobbyists and lawmakers pushed hard to reauthorize and expand the law and succeeded, guaranteeing permanent healthcare and compensation for at least 72,000 first responders. For many however, the new law comes 14 years too late.