NEW YORK — The family of a man killed in the World Trade Center attacks Sept. 11 has become the first to publicly accept a package offered by the federal Victim Compensation Fund, an attorney for the victim's family confirmed Thursday.
The family accepted the $1.04-million settlement rather than pursue an appeal or a lawsuit. Their son was single and in his 20s, working in financial services and earning nearly $60,000 a year.
"This is a family that wanted closure," said lawyer Roberta Gordon of Bryan Cave LLP. "They wanted it done."
Of the more than 3,000 victims in the trade center attacks, 634 families have agreed not to file lawsuits and applied to the compensation fund. Of those cases, 14 families with straightforward cases have received notice about their awards, calculated by a formula.
In the last 10 days, the Justice Department sent certified letters to the families detailing the compensation packages and asking whether they accept or reject the proposal, spokesman Charles Miller said. Within the next week or two, the fund will post on its Web site general details about the victims receiving funds and the amount given to their families.
In a July 27 letter to one victim's family, Kenneth Feinberg, who oversees the fund, explained that the family may accept the award or request a hearing to present "extraordinary circumstances indicating that the presumed award does not adequately address your claim."
Families who request a hearing lose the right to appeal the compensation. Families also must complete a "compensation form for deceased victims," describing how they plan to distribute the money among their relatives. The package also includes a one-page tip sheet on distributing the funds and provides families with a toll-free number to call with questions.
"As always, I emphasized that no amount of money can alleviate the losses suffered on Sept. 11," Feinberg wrote.
In Thursday's case, officials subtracted $150,000 from the $1.19-million settlement for benefits the man had as life insurance. The victim's parents now must determine how to split part of the settlement among adult relatives he would have wanted to receive the money, Gordon said.
Miller said that, depending upon how families request funds to be distributed, they should receive their payments within weeks.
A second set of families requested hearings with Feinberg to explain special factors he should consider when deciding their payouts. These 16 families still await their compensation packages. The Justice Department would not say when it will mail compensation packages for the families who had hearings. But lawyers involved in their cases say that gathering information for these cases has proved difficult.
"Everything has been more complicated and more time-consuming than anybody thought," said Larry Stewart, president of Trial Lawyers Care, a group of 1,200 lawyers who volunteered to represent victims' families. "It's largely the process of turning over a rock and finding three rocks to turn over."
Some companies that lost employees in the attacks have yet to provide information about victims' work histories, which may determine what could have been their projected earnings.
"There is, for lack of a better word, survivor guilt that is slowing this process down," Stewart said.
Many families still are in the early stages of filing claims as they sort through family squabbles about compensation or grapple with their grief.
"Not everybody is rushing to file their application," said Drew Britcher, a Parsippany, N.J.-based lawyer whose firm has volunteered to help 10 families receive compensation. Of his 10 cases, only one family has filed its application.