9/11 Survivors Battle PTSD and Cancer 15 Years Later

The 9/11 terrorist attacks marked the second deadliest day on U.S. soil—second only to the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam. However, unlike some battles and acts of terror, we are still counting the casualties of 9/11 to this day.

The traumatic scenes and the dust cloud that encompassed Lower Manhattan are still affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of survivors. While the mental health issues this group faces have been known for a while, we are only now beginning to understand the long-term effects of the toxic dust. 

400,000 Were in the World Trade Center Disaster Area

WTC_disaster_area
World Trade Center Disaster Area

Overall, it’s estimated that 400,000 were in Lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. This group includes workers who fled the towers; rescue workers; passerby who got caught in the cloud; and the people who lived, worked, or went to school in Lower Manhattan.

Out of 400,000, only 75,000 have enrolled in the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, making it hard to track the full extent of the health complications suffered by survivors.

Health professionals worry that many in this group aren’t coming forward because they weren’t part of the rescue mission or in the towers. However, the deadly dust and the psychologically traumatic events did not discriminate between first responder or passerby: Anyone in the area could face health complications.

As of July 2016, independent reports estimated that 1,140 survivors had died from 9/11 complications.

12,000 Suffered From Mental Health Issues

Rescue workers, cleanup workers, and those who were near Ground Zero and watched the events unfold suffer from a host of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression, memory loss, panic attacks, and substance abuse.

To date:

Passerby suffered the highest rates of PTSD symptoms.

Mental health experts argue that non-emergency workers suffered more from PTSD because they weren’t necessarily trained to cope with disasters. In fact, the WTC Health Registry discovered that passerby suffered the highest rates of PTSD symptoms of any other group affected by the attacks (23.2%).

What makes the events of September 11th particularly hard to recover from are the towers’ noticeable absence.

In an article for the New York Times, Charles Figley, professor of disaster mental health at Tulane University, explained how for many, the towers were part of the fabric of daily life, near where people lived, worked, and went to school.

You go into a combat zone and then you leave. You don’t leave home. You return all the time,” said Professor Figley.

9/11 Cancer Diagnoses Triple

In addition to carrying traumatizing memories with them, survivors and rescue workers also carry the deadly dust that was released into Lower Manhattan for months afterwards. The dust (largely made up of pulverized concrete and building materials) coated passerby and the insides of homes and offices nearby when the towers collapsed.

Dr. Michael Crane described the dust as a “witch’s brew.”

Dr. Michael Crane, director of the World Trade Center Health Program’s lead clinical center at Mount Sinai, described the dust as a “witch’s brew”: “What we do know is that it had all kinds of god-awful things in it. Burning jet fuel. Plastics, metal, fiberglass, asbestos. It was thick, terrible stuff.”

Studies show that the dust had high pH levels of 10 and 11 (7.4 is considered healthy). Even worse, ongoing fires at the site of Ground Zero continued to release toxic fumes in the air for months.

New Yorkers, however, were told the air and dust were safe. It was recommended that landlords and building owners professionally clean their properties, but it was never enforced.

The EPA was later criticized (and sued) for endangering the public’s health. Former EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman only formally apologized this year for misinforming the public.

As of June 30, 2016, 9/11 has been linked to 70 types of cancer, and 5,400 cancer diagnoses. This is already triple the number of cancer diagnoses since January 2014.

These numbers, however, only reflect the patients who have enrolled in the federal health program, and are just the earliest wave of cancer diagnoses. Since it can take cancer 15 to 20 years to show symptoms, we are only seeing the first incidents.

Dust Inhalation Caused More Damage Than Years of Smoking

Particle from the World Trade Center dust
Particle from the World Trade Center dust

Immediately after the attacks, New Yorkers filled hospitals with difficulty breathing. The dust took such a toll on lungs that it gave birth to a deadly cough: the “World Trade Center cough” (WTC cough). The persistent cough is accompanied by breathlessness, wheezing, and often acid reflux and nasal congestion.

Since emergency workers were exposed to the dust for longer periods of time, they are particularly susceptible to WTC cough and other health complications. In 2004, researchers discovered that lungs of first responders were more damaged than longtime smokers. CT scans revealed dark spots where air was trapped in the lungs. Using a scale of 0 to 24 (with 24 being the worst) to rate the severity of the problem, researchers put a typical smoker’s lung somewhere between 0 and 4 and a 9/11 rescue worker at 10.55.

Since the attacks, it’s estimated that more than 32,000 in the disaster area have been diagnosed with asthma, COPD, and WTC cough. For many, survivors will have these chronic conditions for life.

Legal Options for 9/11 Victims and Survivors

Just this year, Congress pledged their support for 9/11 victims by amending the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, allowing victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks. If you have questions about your eligibility for a lawsuit, contact ClassAction.com today. We’ll answer your questions and provide you with a free, no-obligation legal review.  

Former FBI Investigator Lee Walters on What’s Next for 9/11 Lawsuits

With the passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA)—allowing victims of terror to sue the foreign governments responsible—came a tidal wave of questions and predictions about what could happen if Americans filed lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for 9/11.

To better understand the potential implications of the bill and the ins and outs of investigating foreign governments, we spoke with Lee Walters, a legal investigator for Morgan & Morgan’s Whistleblower team. Working alongside qui tam attorneys and government prosecutors, his experience developing evidence and extracting details from witnesses helps whistleblowers recover taxpayer money.

Previously, Lee was a Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI, making him uniquely qualified to comment on and tackle complex investigations like those associated with JASTA. Throughout his 24 years with the agency, he investigated healthcare and bank fraud, public corruption, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

JASTA allows civilians to sue foreign governments for acts of terrorism that occur on U.S. soil. Is there any precedent for cases like these?

Lee_Headshot
Lee Walters

Yes, there is. One example is the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 by agents working on behalf of Libya. Bruce Smith, a Pan Am pilot who lost his wife on the flight, filed suit against the country of Libya under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, was initially dismissed on the grounds that Libya was a sovereign state and had immunity under federal law. After lobbying Congress to change the law, the lawsuit was allowed to go forward and the country of Libya ultimately paid a $2.7 billion settlement to the victims of this terrorist act.

How is investigating a foreign government different than any other defendant?

Investigating a foreign government can be tricky for an investigator as it can be challenging to get access to the kinds of evidence normally sought. A foreign government can put up roadblocks to an investigator looking for evidence such as banking information, electronic communications, and internal written documentation.

The key to success in these investigations, as is the case with any investigation, is developing relationships with individuals who can provide access to the information sought.

Do you think Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the U.S. will affect legal proceedings in any way?

I don’t. JASTA does not specifically mention Saudi Arabia anywhere in the law. And, soon after the president’s veto was overridden with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress agreed to a $1.15 billion sale of arms to Saudi Arabia as a show of goodwill.

“[Saudi Arabia] will need to cooperate, to some degree, in any lawsuits that are brought under JASTA.”

Politically, Saudi Arabia has to speak out; but, to maintain the kind of relationship with the U.S. necessary for the continuation of the monarchy, they will need to cooperate, to some degree, in any lawsuits that are brought under JASTA.

Is there enough declassified information to form a case against Saudi Arabia?

I think the 28 pages released by the House Intelligence Committee in July of this year regarding Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks is pretty damning and a great start.

The report found that Omar al-Bayoumi, who some in the report theorized was a Saudi intelligence officer, received large sums of money from the Saudi government and provided substantial support to two of the hijackers while they were living in San Diego.

It also identified two Saudi citizens, Mohammed al-Qudhaeein and Hamdan al-Shalawi, as conducting a dry run for the 9/11 attack in 1999 on a flight from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., which ultimately made an emergency landing after al-Qudhaeein twice tried to enter the cockpit. Both men told the FBI the Saudi embassy in D.C paid for their flights.

This is just one piece of declassified information that is available and I suspect more will be forthcoming.

Hold Them Accountable

Is the U.S. government likely to cooperate during the discovery process for the 9/11 lawsuits? Do these cases hinge on the government’s participation?

I think the government will cooperate to an extent. I say this because both political parties were behind JASTA and no one in either party wants to be seen as soft on terrorism.

The U.S. government, of course, is not going to release methods and techniques as part of the discovery process, but can release information that is redacted enough to protect that information while revealing the types of information necessary to prevail in a civil lawsuit.

These cases will not totally hinge on the government’s participation, but it will make the chance of success much greater if the government does participate. Information can be developed that does not require the government’s participation, but the quality of that information will lie on the ability of an investigator to develop relationships with human sources that have access.

How do you think JASTA will affect future litigation?

Opponents of JASTA argued that the law would provoke retaliatory lawsuits against U.S. citizens by other countries, which remains to be seen.

“The passing of JASTA allows for some legal recourse and ultimately closure.”

I think JASTA provides a framework for aggressive law firms, such as Morgan & Morgan, to work on behalf of the many victims of state sponsored terrorism, which is a problem that doesn’t appear to have an end in sight. I imagine there is nothing worse than losing a loved one to an act of state sponsored terrorism and feeling like you have no recourse. Fortunately the passing of JASTA allows for some legal recourse and ultimately closure.

5 FAQs About the New 9/11 Lawsuits

1. What is JASTA?

 The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, allows victims of terrorist acts committed on American soil to file lawsuits against foreign governments who helped carry out the attacks. It creates an exemption to the foreign sovereign immunity that typically protects countries in these kinds of incidents.

Senator John Cornyn (R – TX) introduced the bill in September 2015. A year later, President Obama vetoed the bill, citing national security and diplomatic concerns. But days later, he was overridden by Congress via a 97-to-1 vote in the Senate and a 348-to-77 vote in the House.

JASTA was enacted on September 28, 2016. People who suffered physical, financial, or property damage as a result of the 9/11 attacks can now seek relief from foreign governments that they feel played a role in the attacks.

Stephanie DeSimone—the wife of Navy Commander Patrick Dunn, who died at the Pentagon on September 11—filed a 9/11 lawsuit against Saudi Arabia shortly after JASTA’s passing.

2. Why did Obama try to veto JASTA?

The main reason Obama vetoed JASTA (only to be overridden by Congress) is because the law could open up the U.S. to litigation over its military actions abroad (drone strikes, civilian casualties, etc.). Even if the U.S. was not convicted of wrongdoing, Obama argued, the evidence it would have to supply in the discovery phase of trial could jeopardize national security.

In his statement to Congress, President Obama said, “Enacting [this legislation] into law… would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks.”

Of course, the point of the law is not protection or retaliation but relief for victims of 9/11 and accountability for its perpetrators.

Hold Them Accountable

3. Did the Saudi government play a role in 9/11?

Maybe. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens (the other four were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon).

Though the 9/11 Commission Report “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization,” it also noted, “Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding.” Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, of course, claimed responsibility for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

Also of note: Saudi Arabia spent more than $3 million dollars to lobby against JASTA, which also raised some eyebrows. If they don’t bear any responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, why did they try so hard to kill the bill?

As Senator Charles Schumer (D – NY) put it, “If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation.”

4. Who qualifies for a 9/11 lawsuit?

Anyone who suffered physical, financial, or property damage from the 9/11 attacks is now eligible to seek redress from foreign governments like Saudi Arabia’s, assuming they can prove liability on the part of that government.

Importantly, eligible parties may have filed domestic 9/11-related lawsuits in the past. For example, a potential client may have been denied redress in an earlier case because he was working at the time of his or her injury and awarded worker’s compensation. Whether a past lawsuit was successful has no bearing on the new 9/11 lawsuits that will be filed against foreign governments.

Qualifying parties may include:

  • Business owners in Lower Manhattan/the Financial District
  • First responders (police, firefighters, etc.) on 9/11
  • Spouses and family members of 9/11 casualties
  • People working in the Pentagon or at Ground Zero on 9/11
  • Cleanup workers at the attack sites

5. What types of relief do people seek in a 9/11 lawsuit?

Depending on the circumstances of the case, plaintiffs may seek relief in a 9/11 lawsuit for the following:

  • Property damage
  • Loss of business/wages
  • Medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney fees

Our attorneys have extensive experience with complex litigation. As one of the largest consumer protection firms in the country—with 300+ attorneys and a support staff of more than 1,500—we are one of the few with the resources to take on a foreign government like Saudi Arabia. To date, we have won $2 billion for 200,000 clients.

If you or a loved one suffered losses as a result of these horrific attacks, the Saudi government may be partially to blame, and you could be owed compensation. For a free, no-obligation case review, contact us today or call 888-522-5237.

What You Need to Know About the 9/11 Lawsuit Bill

Congress has almost unanimously voted to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), overriding a veto from President Obama. The bill, first introduced by Senator John Cornyn in September 2015, makes it easier for victims of terrorism to file lawsuits against foreign governments.

The Senate voted 97-to-1 in favor of the bill—a rare bipartisan victory. (Only Harry Reid of Nevada voted against.) The House voted 348-to-77 in favor. This marks the first override of a veto during Obama’s presidency.

Prior to the House vote, Representative Ted Poe (R—TX) said, “We as a people should be more concerned about these victims of terror than we are about democratic niceties… Justice has been waiting too long.”

JASTA Allows Families of 9/11 Victims to Sue Saudis

Capitol_hillHistorically, international law has largely protected governments from being sued under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. However, the JASTA bill creates an exception and allows civil claims to be filed against foreign governments for acts of violence and terrorism that occur on U.S. soil.

Specifically, the bill states that the plotting and planning of acts of violence do not have to happen on U.S. soil. It also holds foreign governments accountable for aiding and abetting acts of violence, whether or not they performed the acts themselves.

These clarifications make it easier for 9/11 victims (including families of the deceased and businesses that sustained economic losses) to file lawsuits against the Saudi government for their alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks.

Though an independent commission did not find evidence that the government or a senior official officially supported the 9/11 terrorist attacks, recently declassified information indirectly connects Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan to al Qaeda.

“We want accountability.”

Families of 9/11 victims say they want answers concerning the horrible acts that claimed the lives of their loved ones. “We want accountability,” said Terry Strada, whose husband died in the World Trade Center. “I think the truth would be the first thing, our mission.”

Opponents Fear Foreign Backlash

Justice and answers are not enough though to sway opponents of the new legislation, who argue that it could damage foreign relations.

Opponents fear that the bill will result in foreign governments pulling their assets out of the United States. Saudi Arabia allegedly threatened to liquidate $750 billion in U.S. assets should the bill pass, though some believe this to be an empty threat.

The Obama administration also argues that the act could set legal precedent and result in future lawsuits against the U.S. government and military personnel. They point to the U.S. military’s actions in the Middle East as easy targets for potential lawsuits.

However, supporters argue that because of the bill’s narrow scope, it is unlikely to trigger a significant uptick in litigation. JASTA only implicates countries who support terrorism—acts for which foreign governments should be held accountable.

Senator Chuck Schumer told The New York Times, “If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation.”

Saudi Arabia Enlisted Help from Lobbyists, Corporations

Saudi Arabia hired two lobbying firms and spent more than $3 million to try to kill the legislation.

Though Saudi Arabia continues to claim they are innocent of any involvement in the 9/11 attacks, they hired two lobbying firms and spent more than $3 million to try to kill the legislation.

The kingdom also used the Saudi Arabian assets of some Fortune 100 companies to their advantage. Companies like General Electric, Chevron, Boeing, and Dow Chemical all quietly opposed the bill, fearing the security of their assets abroad.

ClassAction.com Attorneys Are Investigating

ClassAction.com attorneys are keeping a close eye on the new 9/11 lawsuit legislation. We currently have former FBI investigators looking into possible connections to Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and will keep you up to date on our findings.