By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
RICHMOND, July 17 The families of some of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre are drawing up plans to ask the state to create a multimillion-dollar fund that would compensate them for their losses and pay for new programs to bolster campus safety across the nation.
Thomas J. Fadoul Jr., a Vienna lawyer who says he represents the relatives of 22 slain students, said the fund should be modeled after the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which Congress created in 2001 to distribute more than $7 billion to victims of the terrorist attacks and their relatives.
Fadoul said he is not sure how large the Virginia Tech fund would need to be. But he said the relatives of the 32 slain students and faculty members are entitled to "at least what the 9/11 people got."
The families of those killed Sept. 11, 2001, collected awards averaging $2 million. Payouts for the injured averaged almost $400,000.
Like the recipients of the Sept. 11 funds, the relatives of the Virginia Tech victims probably would give up their right to sue before they could receive a direct payment.
"We think enough money can be raised, much like the 9/11 fund, where the families can be properly taken care of, to the extent they have requirements for health, mental and physical and other financial needs, and there are a lot of them," Fadoul said.
The proposal could be finalized by the relatives as early as Wednesday, but Fadoul said the families still need to reach consensus. He cautioned that their requests could change.
On Monday, the administrator of the $7 million Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which Virginia Tech established to receive donations in the days after the April 16 shootings, drew up recommendations for direct payments to the victims.
Kenneth R. Feinberg, who administered the Sept. 11 fund, said he will recommend that the families of those killed at Virginia Tech receive $150,000, and the injured get $25,000 to $75,000.
Feinberg said he would also recommend that anyone who was in Norris Hall, where most of the shootings occurred, receive one year of free tuition or $8,000.
But Fadoul said the families deserve far more money. The relatives also want to create a fund large enough to develop innovative ways to increase campus safety nationwide. They are not sure what form the programs would take.
Fadoul said he and his clients have been discussing their proposal and held a meeting Tuesday night in Charlottesville. He said they could unveil it as early as Wednesday while attending the fourth meeting of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, which is being held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Fadoul said the relatives would like Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the General Assembly to establish the fund, as Congress created the Sept. 11 fund.
If the state fails to act, the families may go to the federal government, some of the relatives said Tuesday night.
Kaine, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
Fadoul suggested that the money in the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which the relatives have criticized for being too slow to respond to their needs, be rolled into a new account.
But Feinberg said it is unlikely that the fund, which is to disburse all its money by Nov. 1, could merge with another one.
"If the commonwealth of Virginia wanted to create its own 9/ 11 type fund, that would require a waiver of any right to sue, that is entirely within the province of the commonwealth of Virginia," Feinberg said.
Fadoul said the money for the fund could come from taxpayer contributions and from a fundraising campaign for which the relatives would make personal appeals for donations. It was unclear Tuesday night whether such a fund would be legal, state officials said.
Fadoul argued that the creation of such a fund would keep the state and Virginia Tech from having to face the possibility of lawsuits.
"Litigation is an option, but litigation is where everybody loses," Fadoul said.
A spokesman for the Virginia attorney general's office, which would represent the state and Virginia Tech in any lawsuit, declined to comment.
Congress created the Sept. 11 fund in part to protect the struggling airline industry and government agencies from the threat of lawsuits, said Lloyd Dixon, a senior economist at the Rand Corp.
Ninety-seven percent of the families of attack victims chose the payouts, but at least 80 filed lawsuits.
Dixon said such funds can be beneficial to governments and victims.
"The funds get payments to the victims more quickly than would have happened through the tort system and avoid a lot of legal and other transaction costs," said Dixon, who conducted a study of the compensation received by the victims of Sept. 11.