Go to CBSNews.com Home

Final Day To Apply For 9/11 Fund
NEW YORK, Dec. 22, 2003

Time is running out for families who wish to apply for the Sept. 11 federal compensation fund: The deadline is midnight.

Despite criticism that the fund is designed to protect the airlines from crippling lawsuits, the vast majority of eligible families have signed up — but not all.

Those who accept money from the fund must forego suing the airlines or other U.S. entities for negligence in the death of their loved ones.

Only 73 families have opted out of the fund.

"That's because it probably would take over ten years to litigate," said Kenneth Feinberg, the special master appointed to administer the unprecedented program. "Even if you win, you can assume 40 percent off the top for your lawyer. The liability of the airlines and the world trade center is capped by statute. It is simply not an attractive alternative.

"As of this morning, we have about 92 percent of the 2,976 confirmed deaths of 9/11, plus over 3000 physical injury claims filed with the fund," Feinberg told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

The fund, created by Congress to compensate victims and protect the airline industry from possibly crippling litigation, has paid out nearly $1.5 billion already.

"I don't know that the settlement has given me a feeling of closure, but certainly it's one big thing that I've taken off my grand 'to do' list," Jenna Jacobs, who lost her husband Ari, told CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

Prof. Perry Binder of Georgia State University says there are several reasons why families have not filed.

"One possibility is that people don't have the information," he told CBS Radio News. Also, "people still are grieving, and don't believe that they want to deal with anything such as a deadline when it comes to a loved one."

Although Mary Fetchet had an attorney draw up the financial report for her 24-year-old son, she is one of those still too grief-stricken to fill out the forms detailing his life.

"I can't even review the report. It's difficult to see my son's signature," she said. "It's really ... I can't provide the full profile that's expected of us."

"It's been extremely difficult," admits Feinberg, but "it will compound the tragedy of 9/11 if they do not take advantage of a program that is so generous."

"It is not too late," said Feinberg. "All I need at the 11th hour today is just the name and address, the name of the claimant, the first two pages of the application form. If the family will just get that into me, and we have regional offices all over the country, we will take it from there and work with the families to help them overcome their problem."

The fund is open to those killed or injured in the attacks. Including those injured, the fund has received a total of 5,102 claims.

"It's been absolutely harrowing. I'm glad I did it," said Feinberg. "I'm doing it, but I must say, day after day meeting with these families, I think you appreciate more than ever the value of life and how precious it really is."

©MMIII CBS Broadcasting Inc.