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PHILADELPHIA — On the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, five major insurance companies sued Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida, dozens of other terrorist organizations and five Middle Eastern countries, seeking $300 billion in connection with claims paid out to victims of the attacks. Lawyers from Cozen O’Connor filed the suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York but eventually hope to consolidate it with separate suits filed in New York and Washington, D.C., directly by the families of 9-11 victims, Cozen partner Elliott Feldman said. There are 30 plaintiffs listed in the suit that are units of major insurers: Chubb Corp., Zurich American Insurance Co., One Beacon Insurance Group, American Reinsurance Co. and Crum & Forster. The plaintiffs are seeking to recoup billions of dollars of property-and-casualty and workers’ compensation claims in addition to punitive damages. The defendants include bid Laden, al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad and five countries on the U.S. State Department’s list of states that sponsor terror — Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria. The 78-page complaint — almost half of which is consumed with the lists of plaintiffs and defendants — claims that the defendants were responsible for the attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people and resulted in the worst insurance disaster in history. Feldman said it was merely a coincidence that the suit was filed a day before the two-year anniversary of the attacks. “It just kind of worked out that way,” Feldman said. “There’s a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death actions, but [New York] Gov. [George] Pataki signed an extension, which makes it two-and-a-half years. Time was flying, so we thought it would be best to do it now.” Feldman said his clients have paid $4 billion in reserve claims, and there are more than 300 wrongful-death claims and more than 100 personal injury claims. He said the potential damages from those claims are “dozens of billions” of dollars. That number is tripled because the money sought in the lawsuit can be trebled under RICO and antitrust legislation. And then Feldman said there is another increase when factoring in punitive damages, leading to the $300 billion figure mentioned in the complaint. In addition to Feldman, who serves as co-chairman of the subrogation and recovery department, other Cozen partners working on the matter include firm Chairman Stephen Cozen, Sean Carter, John Popilock and Scott Tarbutton — all of the Philadelphia office. New York office Managing Partner Michael Sommi and Washington, D.C., partner Matthew Ash are also listed on the complaint. Several associates, paralegals and other support staff also dedicated hundreds of billable hours to this matter over the past two years. Feldman said the firm began working on the case only weeks after the attacks. Under New York law, there is a one-year waiting period before third parties can file workers’ compensation claims. Feldman said the lawyers used that time to do technical, legal and political research, putting together a list of foreign terrorist organizations and terrorism sponsors. Feldman said roughly half the 500 defendants are on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations or sponsors, but the list in the suit is not identical to the one used by the federal government. For instance, Cuba and North Korea are listed as state sponsors of terrorism by the State Department but because neither country has a credible link to al-Qaida, they were not named as defendants. Oddly enough, Afghanistan is not one of the countries listed as a defendant but Iraq is, even though the Taliban-led government had much closer links to al-Qaida than Saddam Hussein’s regime. Carter said the reason is that the Taliban was considered an occupying power in Afghanistan and not a recognized governmental entity, whereas Saddam’s Baathist dictatorship was recognized as a legitimate government. Even though Saddam is now gone and the U.S. government is working on putting together a provisional government with the Iraqi people, Feldman said he still feels it is appropriate to list that country as a defendant. “The government of Iraq supported al-Qaida, and even though they have a provisional government now, it doesn’t change the fact that the [previous Iraqi] government caused substantial amounts of damages to our clients. The change in ruler doesn’t relieve [Iraq] from the harm it caused.” While Feldman said he doesn’t expect to get the opportunity to serve the suit or to collect any awards from bin Laden or organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, he said there are ways to track those organizations down via the Internet and other means. If they cannot be served personally, defendants can also be served through substitute service of process. Plaintiffs will also be seeking to claim some of the $2 billion to $3 billion in assets of organizations that were frozen by the federal government. As for the countries listed as defendants, Feldman said the Foreign Sovereignty Immunity Act offers exceptions from immunity for states that are accused of sponsoring terrorism. The countries, though, are not obligated to respond to the suit. As for the future, Feldman said the consolidation issue is obviously first, followed by service of process, discovery and damage assessment hearings. The suit comes on the heels of Tuesday’s decision by a New York judge to let lawsuits against airlines and the World Trade Center’s owners proceed. The suits were filed by families who said negligence played a key role in the casualties caused by the Sept. 11 attacks. Jeff Blumenthal is a reporter for The Legal Intelligencer , a Recorder affiliate based in Philadelphia.

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