American ready for trial of 9/11 lawsuits

Officials from American Airlines, still facing potentially crippling lawsuits linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said yesterday they will risk a trial if mediation talks set for today fail to sway victims' families to settle out of court.

"American is prepared to go to trial along with the others named in the plaintiffs' lawsuits," said American spokesman John Hotard.

A court source said there is still a chance 9/11 families who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania may agree to settlements.

The airline, along with Massport, United Airlines, Boeing, screening companies, the FAA and others still face about 38 lawsuits related to 9/11.

A court source told the Herald seven of the 38 cases have been cleared to commence before Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan.

Those seven cases, with the first to begin Sept. 24, will go before juries who can award damages.

If damages are awarded, it may help others settle, the source told the Herald.

But if the payouts are too high, defendants have the right to refuse to pay and opt to take the cases to the second liability phase.

The court source said settlements have reached a stalemate over what pain and suffering is worth.

Many families of victims - some with children to support - agreed to take a share of the $7 billion September 11 Victims Compensation Fund created by Congress.

The federal compensation fund paid out 2,880 claims to families of 9/11 victims, awarding an average of $2.1 million.

For those who have not been able to settle, they appear to be weeks away from their day in court. -