Q1. I've heard about this Compensation Fund, and would like some basic information. Do you have a pamphlet or some basic materials you can send me?
A1. You'll find some basic information on our web site, www.usdoj.gov/victimcompensation, or we'll be happy to send you copies of that material. Employers, insurance carriers and others from whom you've been getting advice can provide you with this same information.
Q2. I'm a Postal Worker and have recently been given antibiotic treatments in case I've been exposed to anthrax. Will this Fund help my family if I get really sick or die? My relative/friend was killed in the (Oklahoma City bombing)(Lockerbie explosion) (other terrorist action). Can the Fund help them?
A2. This program has been set up just for the disaster of September 11 because the Congress determined that the numbers of those impacted required a special kind of approach. The Department of Justice has had no indication that the program will be extended to cover other terrorist actions, whether of domestic or foreign origin, that have or may arise.
If you have been impacted by any kind of terrorist related action, you may wish to contact some of the organizations who are providing pro bono legal advice to the victims of the September 11 disaster, who have assured us that they will be pleased to assist you to find answers to whatever questions you may have in this regard.
Q3. I ran a small business across the street from the World Trade Center and I've lost everything – my inventory, my clientele from the neighborhood, the income I needed to pay my daughter's tuition at school, everything. Will the Fund help me in any way?
A3. The Fund is not authorized provide compensation for losses to physical property, but only for personal injury or death.
Q4. I was at Ground Zero at the time the buildings collapsed and stayed for several weeks to help the rescue effort. I've had to start taking medications for blood pressure, and I'm worried about my exposure to asbestos. Will the Fund cover these situations?
A4. This situations raise questions about the scope of the Fund that we cannot answer just yet. We are in the process of seeking comment on some of the definitions in the law, and hope to be able to provide you some answers soon.
Q5. I'm helping the family of someone lost in the World Trade Center/Pentagon/Pennsylvania crash. I've been told that the first thing I should do is obtain a death certificate from the State, and gather up past income records. How quickly do I really need to get all of this together, and what do I do with it next?
A5. Once the Fund becomes operational late this year, it can start to take claims. Certain information will have to be provided if you file a claim, and death certificates for those lost and some evidence of past earnings may well be needed. But we're not sure yet just what that information will be – in fact, that's one of the topics on which we're currently seeking public comment. And even if the information is needed, others (e.g., employers) may be able to submit some of the needed information for you.
Of course there are other reasons you might want to begin collecting such documents – for banking, tax, insurance or other purposes. You may wish to consult with available pro bono services, employers or others upon whom you have been relying for advice in this regard.
Q6. I really appreciate everybody's interest in helping my family, but it seems like everybody is waiting for everybody else to show me the money – the insurers, the Red Cross, the concert funds, the Government. I need some financial assistance now while all this is being worked out. Can't this Fund provide some quick payments now and allow me to repay them later when I get payments from some of these other sources?
A6. This Fund isn't authorized to provide such payments. Nor is it in a position to serve as a guarantor to back up any loan you may be seeking from a private lender, since neither eligibility nor award criteria are in place.
The Department of Justice has a statutory deadline to issue basic rules for the operation of the Fund by December 21, 2001, and the Department intends to meet that deadline. Depending upon how the law is implemented, awards could be available to eligible claimants soon thereafter. However, it is also possible that awards won't be available quite that quickly; at the present time, the Department is seeking comments on how the program should be implemented, and it needs to evaluate those before deciding how to proceed. Moreover some claims may be more difficult to process than others. Accordingly, those who need short term assistance should not wait for the Fund to be operative to seek help, and we would encourage you to contact some of the other resources listed on our Web site for information about such short term assistance.
Q7. I've been contacted regarding possible lawsuits. Is there any reason why I shouldn't be committing myself yet?
A7. One thing we can tell you at this point is that the law establishing the Compensation Fund may put you at a disadvantage if you commit to filing a suit BEFORE the rules for the program are issued in late December of this year. That is because the law appears to require that potential claimants who file civil claims for damages before the initial rules for the Fund are issued have only 90 days after those rules are issued (i.e., until late March of 2002) to elect whether or not to file a claim with the Compensation Fund. That doesn't give you much time to explore your options. If you don't commit to filing a suit before the rules come out in late December, you'll have more time to explore your options.
However, please don't be upset if you have already taken some action to file a legal claim for damages. In the first place, many of the typical actions you may have taken (e.g., agreeing that if you sue you will want a particular attorney to represent you) will not trigger the 90 day cutoff requirement. And the Department will endeavor to provide particularly quick outreach to those who may have triggered this requirement already to help you make a determination on your options. If you think you may have actually filed a damages claim already, please let us know and we'll make it a special point to get in touch with you after the holiday season. If you want more information about your legal options at this time, you may wish to contact some of those organizations that are providing voluntary legal advice. Some are listed on our web site.
Q8. Am I going to lose my right to sue if I wait to see what the Fund offers? And if I indicate I might be interested in find out more about the Fund, am I giving up any rights?
A8. As far as we know, no deadlines have passed for signing up for private legal actions that may ensure (e.g., some type of class action against the airlines). If and when we hear about such information, we will post that information on our Web site; but as we may not be made aware of such information, you may want to continue to stay in touch with employers, legal assistance groups, and others who have been assisting you to date.
As far as the Fund is concerned, you don't waive any of your rights to file or join a lawsuit until you actually "file" a claim. When you do "file" a claim, you must waive your right to become a party to any subsequent civil action in any Federal or State court for damages sustained as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist-related aircraft crashes. Additionally, if you pursue recovery through the Fund, the act of filing a claim starts a clock running on the decisionmaking process; by law, a decision on an award must be made within 120 days of filing. And the Special Master's determination of your award is "final" in that you cannot appeal his or her decision to any court. Accordingly, your decision to "file" a claim is an important one.
At the present time, the Department has asked for public comment on when a claim should be considered to be "filed". Once the rules are issued later this year, we should be able to provide much more specific guidance in this area.
Q9. When will the Victim's Compensation Fund be available?
A9. The Attorney General is in the process of selecting a Special Master to administer the program. Additionally, the Department of Justice is currently seeking input from the public as to how the program would best be managed. The statute requires the initial rules to be issued by December 21, 2001.
We are seeking comment on how quickly the Department will begin accepting claims once the rules are in place. The Department recognizes that many are anxious to file claims, but it also wants to ensure, to the extent practicable, that the very first claims are determined under the same standards as the very last. The law gives claimants up to 2 years from the date the initial rules are issued to file a claim.
When the initial rules are announced in late December, the Department will promptly begin providing additional information about the process. In the interim, feel free to monitor our web site or call the toll-free not line for further information.
Q10. Will there be attorneys available to assist claimants with filing a claim?
A10. There will most definitely be help available from the Department to claimants. At the present time, the Department is seeking comments on what types of help would be most useful.
Some claimants may want their own representation during the claims process. While the Department's aim is to make all proceedings simple enough so that claimants will feel comfortable proceeding without obtaining the assistance of an attorney, the law entitles claimants to be represented by private counsel during any hearings. Moreover, the Department has been assured by respected legal organizations that free legal services will be available to any claimant who wants assistance with any aspect of this process – from deciding whether to file a claim to deciding how to structure any award – and the Department will be pleased to provide phone numbers and web sites of groups or organizations offering such assistance. Accordingly, the Department does not believe there is a need to make government attorneys available for this purpose.
Q11. If I seek an award from the Victim's Compensation Fund, can I expect my award to be comparable to an award recovered from a tort suit?
A11. While the Department of Justice cannot guarantee that any award granted by the Special Master will be as much as one secured as a result of complex litigation, all awards will take into account your economic and non-economic losses, without your having to bear the burden of proving that the September 11, 2001 aircraft crashes were the result of wrongdoing or negligence by anyone. In some cases, awards may be larger that what would be received as a result of litigation, and in others in may be less.
Q12. What type of losses does the Fund cover if I'm eligible?
A12. The Fund is to provide compensation for personal injury or death. Compensation refers to "economic" and "noneconomic" losses resulting from the injury or death. The Fund is not authorized to cover losses to property (e.g., the cost of repairing a building or replacing laptop computers), nor can it assess damages to punish those whom a court might hold responsible (punitive damages).
The terms "economic" loss and "noneconomic" loss may sound somewhat vague, but they are terms that are generally understood by those who help claimants who have suffered losses from personal injury or death. The statute provides some additional guidance, and requires the Special Master will look at the circumstances of each individual claimant in determining these losses. At the present time, the Department of Justice is seeking public comment on how to go about assessing these losses, and so is refraining from providing any further guidance at this time.
You should know that before making an award for personal injury or death, the Special Master must take into account any "collateral sources" for which a claimant is eligible – e.g., life insurance payments. Again, the Department is seeking public comment on how to implement this requirement, and so is refraining at this time from providing further guidance on this matter.
Q13. If I decide to pursue compensation through the Victim's Compensation Fund as opposed to pursuing the litigation alternative, what are the future implications of such action?
A13. The decision whether to seek compensation from the Fund, or from a private tort action is one that should be made after giving significant consideration of all the probable consequences of both courses. The Fund is intended to provide an expeditious, no-fault alternative to what could be a costly and lengthy litigation process. However, if you determine that the Fund is the best course of action for you, you must waive your right to become a party to any subsequent civil action in any Federal or State court for damages sustained as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist-related aircraft crashes. Additionally, if you pursue recovery through the Fund, the Special Master's determination of your award is "final" in that you cannot appeal his or her decision to any court.
Q14. How long do I have to file a claim with the Special Master to receive compensation?
A14. Any claim filed under the statute must be filed within 2 years from the date the initial regulations are issued. At this time, we believe claims will have to be filed on or before December 21, 2003.