Government Settles Lawsuit over 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The federal government has agreed to pay $2.5 million to Maureen Stevens, a resident of Lantana, Florida, to settle her lawsuit arising from the 2001 death of her husband, Bob Stevens, in the anthrax attacks that occurred in various cities that fall. The $50 million lawsuit claimed negligence by the government for failing to prevent the attack that killed her husband, citing evidence that a government insider obtained the spores used in the attacks from an Army lab. A settlement was first announced in October, but details only recently became public.

The anthrax attacks occurred in the fall of 2001, a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Bob Stevens was a 63 year-old photo editor at American Media, Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida, the publisher of the National Enquirer and other tabloids. He died on October 5, 2001, a few days after opening a letter addressed to the publisher that had been laced with anthrax spores. Bob Stevens’ death was the first of five resulting from similar letters.

Maureen Stevens filed her lawsuit in a Florida federal court in 2003, claiming $50 million in damages for her husband’s death. She alleged that the government negligently failed to secure anthrax spores at the laboratory where they originated, the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland. She claimed that the Institute had a history of failing to track pathogens and of missing microbe samples dating back to at least 1992. In essence, she alleged that the government had a duty to adequately safeguard dangerous pathogens in its possession, particularly ones known to be deadly to humans, and that the government breached its duty by allowing anthrax spores to fall into the hands of the perpetrator of the attacks. This led directly to Bob Stevens’ wrongful death, according to her lawsuit.

The Justice Department, arguing on behalf of the government, disputed her allegations. It claimed that she failed to prove a direct causal connection between the government’s actions, even its lack of security precautions, and Bob Stevens’ death. The Justice Department at one point unsuccessfully argued to the Florida Supreme Court that the government could not be held liable even if it had allowed the release of dangerous materials. Discovery in the case led to many revelations about security at the Maryland research site and the role of various government employees and officials. Only some of these have become public. The case was set for trial in January 2012 when the settlement was announced.

A $100 million, nine-year-long investigation by the government concluded in 2010 that the attacks were the work of one man, Dr. Bruce Ivins, a researcher at the Maryland research site. Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 as the Justice Department was preparing criminal charges against him. Investigators had previously identified another researcher at the Maryland site, Steven Hatfill, as a suspect. Hatfill was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing, but later filed a lawsuit against the government for invading his privacy. The government settled with him for $5.8 million. Stevens’ lawyers and other government researchers still dispute the theory of Ivins’ sole responsibility for the attacks.

People who have been injured due to negligence or illegal conduct may have rights to compensation for their injuries, and the Washington DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen can help. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

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Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

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