Lawsuits from families of hijacking victims target airlines

Friday, March 8, 2002

NEW YORK -- The families of two passengers who died on planes hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11 have filed lawsuits against United Airlines and two airport security companies, in part to highlight the need to strengthen air safety, their lawyer says.

"These families are suing because they want answers," attorney Mary Schiavo said in a statement Wednesday, a day after the lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against United, Argenbright Security Inc. and St. Louis-based Huntleigh USA Corp. "These families hope their actions will expose the failures by these defendants and thereby improve security and spare others from a similar fate."

Messages left with Huntleigh USA and Atlanta-based Argenbright were not immediately returned.

There was no answer at United's corporate headquarters in Chicago on Wednesday evening.

The lawsuits were among seven wrongful-death lawsuits believed to have been brought so far as a result of the hijackings of the three planes that struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a fourth that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

The lawsuits filed Tuesday were brought by Julie Sweeney, of Cape Cod, Mass., who lost her husband, Brian Sweeney, and by Catherine Stefani and David Miller, of California, who lost their daughter Nicole Miller.

Brian Sweeney, 38, was a staff instructor at the Navy's Top Gun Fighter Weapons School in Miramar, Calif.

He had left a telephone message for his wife from United Flight 175, which left Boston and crashed into the trade center's south tower, according to a release from the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford & Schiavo.

Nicole Miller, who lived with her mother in San Jose, Calif., was on United Flight 93, which left Newark (N.J.) International Airport and crashed near Shanksville, Pa. She was a sophomore on the dean's list at West Valley College, in Saratoga, Calif.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuits knowing that litigation could injure their ability to recover money from a government fund set up to compensate families of those killed on Sept. 11, Schiavo said.

Julie Sweeney said in the release that she believed "this country has been let down by the aviation industry."

"Accepting the government buy-out is the same as releasing all blame to those responsible for allowing these murders to happen," she said. "We need to set some sort of precedent so this never happens again."

Stefani and David Miller said in a joint statement that they believe they will only get the answers they seek through the courts.

"We want justice to be served so no one else has to suffer what we're going through," they said.

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