Does JASTA lawsuit compensation impact my VCF claim?
As the legal team of choice for 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) claimants, we’ve answered hundreds of questions about VCF claims and eligibility, including those involved in a Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) Lawsuit who have questions about their rights to seek compensation under the VCF.
Gregory Cannata & Associates is a New York-based law firm that has helped thousands of first-responders, volunteers, Manhattan residents, and loved ones recover more than $300 Million in compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
The information below will help you understand your rights to file for VCF compensation for those that have been or will be parties to a JASTA lawsuit.
If you have questions about how a JASTA lawsuit will affect your VCF claim, or would like to discuss your eligibility to recover VCF compensation, it’s important to speak with an experienced 9/11 attorney.
Call 1-888-982-8428 or complete the online claim evaluation form today for a free consultation with a VCF attorney at Gregory Cannata & Associates.
What is a JASTA lawsuit?
The Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act was initially introduced in the US Senate in December 2009, sponsored by Senator John Cornyn [R] and Senator Chuck Schumer [D]. It was last reintroduced to the Senate on September 16th, 2015, passing the legislation on May 17th, 2016.
In the House of Representatives, the bill was sponsored by Representative Peter T King [R] and Representative Jerrold Nadler [D]. It had over 50 cosponsors and passed unanimously on September 12th, 2016.
The bill was then vetoed by President Obama on September 23rd, 2016, which was then overridden with a Senate vote of 97 for, one opposed, and two abstaining. On the same day, the House passed the bill into law by a vote of 348-77. It was the only veto of the Obama presidency that was overridden.
President Obama vetoed JASTA based on the fear of reciprocity from other nations. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated the administration's concerns that JASTA could put the US, its service members, its diplomats, and its taxpayers at “significant risk” should similar laws be adopted by other countries.
Essentially, JASTA narrows the scope of the legal definition of sovereign immunity. By amending the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalties Act, it opens the door for civil claims against foreign states for injuries, death, or damages if they are from an act of international terrorism.
Prior to JASTA, a US citizen could only sue a foreign state if it was specifically designated by the United States Department of State as a state sponsor of terrorism and if that state’s aid to international terrorism had caused them harm.
What JASTA did was allow federal courts to exercise what is called subject matter jurisdiction over any foreign state’s support for acts of international terrorism. If an act of terrorism was against a US national or property, the foreign state no longer had to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the Department of State to be sued.
JASTA even goes much further than just allowing courts to proceed with cases against foreign states not labeled state sponsors of terrorism. Before JASTA, certain US courts had construed and established such precedent that claims against foreign states for an act of international terrorism were only allowed when both the injury and terrorist act had occurred within our borders.
This judicial requirement is known as “entire tort”. A good example is a case arising from the 9/11 attacks in which the court dismissed claims brought against the Saudi Joint Relief Committee and Saudi Red Cross Society because their donations to charities supportive of al Qaeda occurred abroad.
Section 3 of JASTA eliminates the entire tort rule. In its place, a new rule allows for claims in US courts against foreign states.
Now claims for injuries to persons or property in the US can be brought regardless of where the acts occurred or the acts of the foreign state occurred.
It is important to note that this change only applies to the statuses and immunities afforded to foreign states. There is no change in the law with respect to the status of foreign private individuals or companies.
JASTA had the effect of allowing the continuation of a longstanding lawsuit by the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks against Saudi Arabia. The lawsuit is based on the alleged role of the Saudi government in the attacks.
Because of JASTA, families of the 9/11 victims and injured survivors can amend lawsuits currently underway or file new lawsuits directly against Saudi Arabia.
JASTA does allow government control over lawsuits
As a way to counterbalance the narrowing of sovereign immunity, JASTA does place some limitations on the lawsuits brought against foreign states.
Section 5 of JASTA gives the US Government the authority to intervene in a lawsuit against a foreign state and permits the courts to stay the lawsuit.
These actions depend on the certification that the US government is “engaged in good-faith discussion with the foreign state defendant concerning the resolution of the claims against the foreign state, or to any other parties as to whom a stay of claims is sought.”
Generally, such stays are limited to 180 days, but the government has the right to renew the visit so long as it recertifies that negotiations are ongoing.
Sovereign immunity for assets of foreign states is unchanged.
There are two general forms of sovereign immunity under US law. They are jurisdictional immunity and attachment immunity. Jurisdictional immunity prevents suits against foreign states in US courts unless a specified exception is outlined in the FSIA.
Attachment immunity means that foreign assets cannot be seized to satisfy a judgment unless an exemption from FSIA applies. Both forms of immunity have different exceptions in the FSIA.
While JASTA modified FSIA to allow for lawsuits against foreign states, it did not modify the immunity given to foreign assets.
JASTA expansion of the “Anti-Terrorism Act”
Under the “Anti-Terrorism Act” (ATA), the civil remedy is provided for “any national of the US injured in his or her person, property or business by reason of an act of international terrorism." US nationals who are victims of international terrorism can now recover damages from private individuals and entities that have engaged in international terrorism.
This changed what is considered "engaged in international terrorism" from being a primary or proximate actor to including those who have aided and abetted international terrorism by providing substantial assistance.
While JASTA eliminates the restriction and allows for secondary liability, it does so only with respect to international terrorism planned, committed, or authorized by an organization designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
If someone is considering a JASTA lawsuit, it is important to know what organizations are classified as designated foreign terrorist organizations. The US Department of State has the full list on its website.
JASTA applies retroactively
Enacted September 28th, 2016 JASTA applies to any civil lawsuit that was pending on or commenced on or after that date. The lawsuit applies to any injury to a person, property, or business entity on or after 9/11.
Prior to the enactment of JASTA, in 2015, US District Judge George Daniels had dismissed claims made by the families of victims under the reasoning that the country had sovereign immunity. The judge wrote, “The allegations in the complaint alone do not provide this court with a basis to assert jurisdiction over the defendants.”
A post-JASTA lawsuit was filed by 1,500 injured survivors and 850 family members of 9/11 victims on March 20th, 2017, against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The plaintiffs allege that the Saudi government had prior knowledge that some of its officials and employees were sympathizers of al Qaeda or operatives for al Qaeda.
Stated in the complaint is that Saudi Arabia “knowingly provided material support and resources to the al Qaeda terrorist organization and facilitated the September 11th attacks.”
Also, in March 2017, dozens of insurers filed a $6 billion lawsuit against Saudi Arabia to hold it responsible for damages incurred to businesses and property on 9/11. Insurance companies like Safeco and Liberty Mutual accused both Saudi Arabia and a state-affiliated charity (the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia & Herzegovina) of providing the support and funding that made conducting the acts on 9/11 feasible.
During that week, at least seven lawsuits were filed against Saudi Arabia.
As of 2017, no less than 25 lawsuits had been filed against Saudi Arabia. Billions in claims against Saudi Arabia were filed in 2017 alone by the families of 2,500 of the deceased and more than 20,000 people, businesses, and insurers claiming injuries.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied the claims and has said that the plaintiffs cannot prove claims that any affiliated charities or the kingdom were behind the attacks or provided material or financial support.
While the country has conceded that JASTA eliminates some of its defenses, the kingdom has said, “Neither proper allegations nor any evidence support plaintiffs’ conclusory assertions that Saudi Arabia caused the 9/11 attacks by knowingly or even recklessly aiding the terrorists who committed them.”
The kingdom has suggested in the past that JASTA might even violate the US Constitution if it was passed in order to dictate the results of lawsuits, which would encroach on the separation of powers.
In 2004, the 9/11 Commission report was clear in finding “no credible evidence that any person in the United States gave the hijackers substantial financial assistance,” nor did it establish any clear connection to a foreign government.
Previously, the JASTA cases have had letters filed as to plaintiffs' frustration not having access to many documents redacted or withheld due to Top Secret status. In 2021, President Biden ordered the release of FBI documents related to the attack.
Some conspicuous details of the hijackers' movements before 9/11 include a coincidental meeting at a deli between two of the hijackers and a Saudi government team member. Also known is that a Saudi diplomat assisted the same two in finding housing in Los Angeles. Another Saudi diplomat has made calls at “critical times” to contacts close to the hijackers.
Finally, complicating the cases is the support provided for anti-terrorism efforts by Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is acknowledged as a critical player in the US-led war on terror.
It has made the statement that "Saudi Arabia is very proud of its anti-terrorism record, including its efforts to thwart terrorist financing, its comprehensive strategies to counter extremist ideology in both the public domain and online, and the degradation and defeat of terrorist organizations throughout our region."
The future of JASTA cases
It is safe to say that the future of JASTA cases is uncertain. They are heavily reliant on proof of the involvement of Saudi Arabia and its affiliated charities. Also, in what can best be described as a financial windfall for US-based lobbyists, the kingdom is spending big on lobbying Congress.
Given the importance of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, JASTA is always at some risk of being nullified to some extent by the US Congress, and some Republicans have expressed support in the past.
Appeals to higher courts by the Saudi government also present a risk should the initial lawsuits be won by the plaintiffs.
If I participate in the JASTA lawsuit, can I still file a VCF claim?
Yes. Furthermore, you absolutely should.
Given the risk remaining in the JASTA lawsuits, a VCF filing is the best route to receiving compensation for 9/11 associated adverse health impacts (such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, or lung cancer) and their associated economic losses. Additionally, that support is potentially received long before any resolution of the JASTA lawsuits.
Does participating in the JASTA lawsuit affect my VCF claim?
JASTA only affects a VCF claim only if the plaintiffs receiving compensation is the outcome of a JASTA case. In the case of an award or settlement, it is declared as a collateral offset.
A collateral offset is defined as any 9/11-related compensation received from other sources. Any collateral offset is then deducted from the claimant’s VCF award.
The VCF requires that claimants inform them of any collateral source payments they receive that may impact VCF compensation.
Many JASTA lawsuits have been filed since 2017 and remain ongoing. Efforts have been complicated due to withheld documentation, Saudi-US relations, questions as to the law's Constitutionality, and the potential for the political tide to shift with the extensive lobbying of Congress.
Everyone that has been adversely impacted by 9/11 deserves compensation from JASTA cases if they can be won. There is no way to predict the outcome of these cases or how long the timeline might be for a decision, the appeals process, and payment in the case of the plaintiffs prevailing.
This makes a VCF claim a must due to a significantly higher likelihood of compensation than in a JASTA case. A VCF case can be filed even if one is a party to a JASTA case. Furthermore, it should be initiated immediately.
In light of the time and risk possible with the ongoing JASTA cases, a VCF filing makes perfect sense. Even if the hoped-for JASTA settlements are very extensive, a VCF settlement is an excellent hedge against the uncertainty that is simply offset by the JASTA award. One doesn’t have an adverse impact on the other and as a result, is still the greater compensation of the two.
VCF claims can be complicated when involving more significant cancers, respiratory illness, or death. Economic losses need to be calculated into the VCF settlement, and presence in the designated impact zone does need to be proven. The need for expert and experienced representation is just as crucial when filing for VCF compensation as is having great attorneys in a JASTA lawsuit.
Gregory Cannata & Associates is a professional and compassionate law firm that has the necessary experience and an impeccable track record with VCF filings. A free consultation with a Victim Compensation Fund lawyer at Gregory Cannata & Associates will establish the roadmap to the compensation deserved by those suffering from the devastating impacts of 9/11.
Many federal and state 9/11 benefits programs exist that could likely provide compensation or support services in addition to JASTA lawsuits. An expert lawyer will help find them and secure the benefits.
Gregory Cannata & Associates is honored to play a role in supporting the September 11th families in their pursuit.
Call 1-888-982-8428 or complete the online claim evaluation form today to discuss available state and federal benefits programs with an experienced 9/11 VCF lawyer at Gregory Cannata & Associates.