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Should government compensate Newtown's victims and their families?

January 02, 2013|By Michael McGough
  • Ken Feinberg, former special master of the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund: "Bad things happen to good people every day in this country and it's not part of our heritage for the taxpayer to be an insurer."
Ken Feinberg, former special master of the September 11th Victims Compensation… (Amanda McCoy / Associated…)

This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

 A Connecticut lawyer has withdrawn -- for now -- a $100-million lawsuit against the state of Connecticut on behalf of a 6-year-old survivor of the Newtown school shooting in which 20 young children were killed. According to the Washington Post, New Haven-based attorney Irving Pinsky might resubmit the claim after evaluating new evidence. 

The basis of Pinsky's claim is that the state Board of Education, Department of Education and education commissioner failed to take appropriate steps to protect children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School from "foreseeable harm" and had failed to provide a "safe school setting." Pinsky’s client, according to the complaint,  "has sustained emotional and psychological trauma and injury, the nature and extent of which are yet to be determined."

The filing of this lawsuit will be attacked -- understandably -- as an extreme manifestation of American litigiousness and blame-shifting. But equally dubious is the notion that other branches of government should provide redress for victims of the shootings and their families.

After 9/11 attacks Congress approved $7 billion in payments for the families of the victims of the attacks.   (The 9/11 program did have an ulterior purpose: sparing  the airlines whose planes were hijacked from litigation.  Presumably families that received payments from a Newtown fund would agree not to sue the state or the school system.)

I always thought the 9/11 program represented a triumph of emotion over principle. Why should relatives of 9/11 victims, as opposed to, say, the families of people who died in car crashes or as the result of an illness, receive compensation?  Ken Feinberg, special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, acknowledged in an interview with CNN in 2011 that the 9/11 payouts were an aberration. "Bad things happen to good people every day in this country and it's not part of our heritage for the taxpayer to be an insurer,"  Feinberg said. "To give these people, on average, $2 million tax free flies in the face of American history.”

The same would be true of a government-created Newtown fund.

[For the record, 1:25 p.m., Jan. 2: An earlier version of this post said that Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen seemed to be floating the idea of a 9/11-like compensation fund for the families of the shooting victims.  Although Jepsen said that a response to the shootings should come from Congress to the state legislature,  his spokeswoman says that "the attorney general has never suggested the creation of a government compensation fund for victims and survivors of the shootings."]

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