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For the first time in its history, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America has declared a moratorium on civil lawsuits — those that might arise from last Tuesday’s terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. But that doesn’t mean there won’t eventually be lawsuits. Behind the scenes, at least one prominent South Florida plaintiffs’ lawyer already has signed up clients affected by the attacks. In a written statement, Leo V. Boyle, president of the ATLA, said: “There are more urgent needs that must be served at this time. Let us support our government so it can fully gather all the evidence needed quickly to identify and prosecute the terrorists.” The ATLA, based in Washington, D.C., and created in 1972, represents 56,000 trial lawyers, law professors and paralegals. Aaron Podhurst, a leading aviation attorney who’s a partner at Podhurst Orseck Josefsberg in Miami, said he fully agrees with the moratorium. But he said the association’s policy statement only discourages plaintiffs’ lawyers from filing lawsuits — and doesn’t stop them from communicating with and signing up clients. Podhurst said he already has signed up several clients who are relatives of passengers killed on the four commercial airliners that crashed after being hijacked. “I’ve had several telephone meetings,” he said. “I’ve gotten half a dozen calls from potential clients. These are widows and relatives of those who were on the planes, and they need to know what their rights are.” But Podhurst said he will not be filing any lawsuits for quite awhile. The statute of limitations for filing wrongful death lawsuits for damages arising from plane crashes is two years. “While people are not buried yet, this is no time for filing lawsuits,” he says. “This is a time for healing. After the investigation is complete, and the facts are known, that is the time.” Mike Eidson, another top aviation attorney and a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, Fla., agrees. Eidson, who serves as parliamentarian of ATLA, said the association’s moratorium is intended to “prevent someone from going in and filing some big flamboyant class action lawsuit.” “There’s no hurry,” he added. “We need to heal.”

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