Many of us remember the anthrax attacks that began shortly after the September 11, 2001 tragedy. These attacks struck fear in the heart of many Americans because at the time the attacker was unknown, and it was speculated that Al-Queda was responsible for this biological hazard as well as for the September 11th attacks. Last month, the United States government agreed to settle a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of the first victim of the 2001 anthrax attacks. The settlement amount agreed upon was 2.5 million dollars. According to the Washington Post, documents filed in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida, show that the Justice Department agreed to the settlement but did not admit liability in the death of Robert Stevens.
Robert Stevens, the first victim of the 2001 anthrax attacks, was a tabloid editor, who worked for American Media, publisher of the National Enquirer Sun, Globe and other tabloids. According to the New York Times, Stevens, who at the time was 62, died on October 5, 2001, just days after inhaling anthrax spores which were contained in a letter that had been delivered to his place of work. According to the Washington Post, after Stevens death, federal officials initially believed that Al-Queda was the culprit behind these biological attacks. However, the F.B.I. soon began to focus on the possibility that an American biodefense insider was behind the attacks. Four other people died and 17 others were sickened in similar letter attacks, which the FBI concluded were perpetrated by Dr. Bruce Ivins, a Fort Detrick scientist, who committed suicide after he became the subject of investigations.
The Washington Post reports that in their suit against the U.S. Government, which was filed in 2003 and initially sought 50 million dollars, Stevens widow, Maureen, his son and two daughters accused the government of negligence in his death because it engaged in the "ultra-hazardous activity" of experimenting with anthrax bacteria at Fort Detrick. Also according to the lawsuit, officials knew "that the potential harm was likely to be great, namely, the cause of human death."
According to the family's attorney, Richard D. Schuler, documents and testimony showed minimal vetting of government scientists who worked with anthrax and other pathogens, weak laboratory security and haphazard inventory controls before 2001. Mr. Schuler stated: "What we found was a horror show, basically. There was a serious potential danger to society from a biological attack as a result of either an insider or outsider getting access to these lethal organisms."
In 2004, the Justice Department sought to dismiss the case, arguing that Stevens "died at the hands of a killer.'' So, it is unclear why the two sides have recently reached an agreement to settle, or why the case took so long to resolve.
The Washington Post reports that Government attorneys who handled the Stevens settlement said that the settlement is not "an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States" and that the intent of the deal was "avoiding the expenses and risks of further litigation."
The Stevens family attorney, Richard Schuler, said the family is "very satisfied and happy that the case is concluded" but still blames the government for Stevens's death. According to Schuler, "I think the settlement was a recognition by the government that it did not have adequate security" at the Ft. Detrick lab.