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9/11 families still fighting for right to sue Saudi Arabia

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Victims and surviving family members of those killed in the 9/11 attacks may be able to sue Saudi Arabia for its reported ties to the terrorists. However, as with so many things, it is in the hands of those in government who may have other priorities.

As of the eve of the 15th anniversary of the attacks, both houses of Congress had overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow victims to sue Saudi Arabia and present evidence that government officials there had some involvement or prior knowledge of the attack, which resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people. This bill is now headed to President Obama’s desk for signature.

The president, however, has indicated that he won’t sign the bill into law because, as the White House press secretary put it, it would have “longer-term, unintended consequences.” It could, according to the administration, set a precedent that could subject U.S. officials serving in foreign nations to the laws and court systems of those countries. Further, the White House says that such a law would endanger U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, which is an important Middle East ally.

Even if the president vetoes the bill, there are clearly enough votes to override that veto and enact the legislation. There’s just one problem. Legislators are preparing to adjourn until the November election to spend their time campaigning for themselves and others. If the president does nothing, the bill automatically becomes law. However, if he vetoes the bill within 10 days of receiving it and Congress isn’t in session, he can “pocket veto” it. In that case, it wouldn’t become law.

The 9/11 families are now trying to persuade members of Congress to stay in session long enough to prevent a pocket veto. As the woman who’s leading the movement to be allowed to sue Saudi Arabia said, “This is more important than campaigning. “You can campaign after….This is the priority.”

Members of Congress are saying that they can leave enough lawmakers on Capitol Hill to have “pro forma” sessions to override a veto. However, it’s uncertain whether that tactic would work.

Most wrongful death suits don’t have this level of complexity. However, experienced New York personal injury attorneys can explore all options for surviving family members to seek compensation.

Source: The Washington Post, “Bill championed by families of 9/11 victims headed for likely veto showdown with the White House,” Karoun Demirjian, Sep. 09, 2016

Jason Fuiman

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Co-Managing Partner and Chair of O'Dwyer & Bernstien's Labor & Employee Benefits practice, Jason has over twenty years of experience in the New York legal industry.