After nearly ten years of litigation in a wrongful death lawsuit, the family of Mark Bavis, a professional hockey scout killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reached a settlement with United Airlines and its security contractor. The family was the lone holdout among the thousands who either accepted money from the $7 billion Victim Compensation Fund or settled their individual lawsuits. Until now, the Bavis family had refused to settle its suit. Instead, the family wanted a trial so it could reveal “how woefully inadequate airport security measures were on the day the hijackers boarded at Logan International Airport.”
Family members attributed their change of heart about settling to “frustration over the legal system” that they say “gutted their case by limiting its scope.” Mike Bavis, Mark’s identical twin brother, had this to say about the settlement:
For almost ten years, my family never even considered the word ‘settle.’ We were always going to trial. How that changed has everything to do with the court, the legal system, and the rulings from Judge [Alvin] Hellerstein. The lawsuit was about wrongful death, gross negligence, and a complete lack of appreciation for the value of human life. Instead, the judge changed it to a case about federal regulations.
The trial had been set to begin on November 7th in a federal court in Manhattan. Mark Bavis was one of the 56 passengers who departed Logan International Airport on United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. The 31-year-old Newton resident was headed to a Los Angeles Kings training camp in Los Angeles.
The settlement came 12 days after Judge Hellerstein ruled on September 7th that United Airlines and its security contractor, Huntleigh USA, had to prove only that they adhered to federal aviation safety standards, and didn’t have to meet the state standards of wrongful death that the Plaintiffs believed applied in their case. The Defense had asked the judge to dismiss the case. In response, lawyers for the family filed a brief with 127 exhibits outlining the evidence they intended to present at trial. That included depositions obtained from more than 200 screeners working on September 11, 2001, at Logan, their supervisors, chiefs of security for the airline, and Federal Aviation Administration officials.
The testimony revealed that the five terrorists who boarded Flight 175 passed through screeners at United Airlines who did not speak English (one even required a translator for her deposition), did not know who Osama bin Laden was, or what Al Qaeda was, and were both inexperienced and underpaid. In addition, many of the screeners on duty that day “did not know what Mace and pepper spray were.’’ It was shown by the documents, filed by the family, that the screeners and their supervisors failed to act on the suspicious behavior of two of the hijackers, who were let through security even though they didn’t speak English and could not even respond to security questions. Additional screening, the Bavis lawyers allege, would have included a hand search of their carry-on bags, which contained knives, Mace, and pepper spray. If that’s good security, airline passengers were being put at tremendous risk of harm and even death.
The family felt it had won a victory with the release of the depositions. The family was able to accomplish a major goal, according to Mike Bavis. The family worked to make public the airline’s failure to screen passengers adequately, hoping to help improve security and save lives in the future. On the morning of the attacks, at least nine screeners were unaware that the threat level had been raised to a level which meant terrorists with a known capability to attack civil aviation were likely to carry out attacks against U.S. targets.
The victim’s mother, Mary Bavis, and her six surviving children filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2002 against United, Huntleigh, and Massport (which runs Logan Airport). Judge Hellerstein dismissed the claim against Massport in July. The family’s lawyer, Donald Migliori of the Motley Rice law firm, says that the settlement was the result of the family’s frustration with court delays and rulings, and its relief when the depositions were finally released. Mike Bavis said the easiest way to have prevented the “tragedy and horror’’ of 9/11 would have been “to have an airline industry that made a reasonable effort to provide security for its passengers.” He says “the evidence shows that they most certainly did not.’’ The amount of the settlement is confidential. Incidentally, the judge had limited the trial to three weeks.