Audit: Sept. 11 Claims High, but Fund Still Solvent

Nearly 3,000 more people than first expected are likely to file personal injury claims related to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a government audit of the $5.1 billion victim compensation fund said Tuesday.

Even so, the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund (search) will have a projected $27 million surplus after paying all anticipated claims, according to the audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine (search).

The fund was created by Congress to protect airlines and other entities from being hit with huge lawsuits in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. People who accept awards give up their right to sue.

The office of Special Master Kenneth Feinberg (search), the fund administrator, had initially projected total death claims of 3,000 and injury claims of 300. As of Sept. 15, however, the number of projected injury claims was revised upward sharply to between 2,500 and 3,000, the audit said.

The number of people most seriously injured in the attacks, many of them partially or totally disabled, has remained roughly the same. But officials say most of the claims that were initially unforeseen involve comparatively minor injuries such as broken bones, less serious burns and the like.

To qualify for an injury claim, a person must have suffered the injury within 12 hours of the attacks and have sought medical attention within 72 hours. Feinberg has some leeway to relax those requirements for injured rescue workers but not for anyone claiming to have developed health problems in the weeks or months after Sept. 11.

As of mid-August, the audit found that 2,205 claims had been filed -- 1,177 for deaths and 1,028 for personal injuries. The largest death award to date is $6.7 million and the biggest award for an injury is $7.6 million, officials said Tuesday.

The projected $27 million surplus is based on awards for injuries that are averaging about $159,000 and average death claims of about $1.3 million.

The inspector general's audit also found that claims are being processed in a "consistent and timely manner" and that the fund has taken sufficient safeguards to protect against fraud.

Two people have pleaded guilty to making false statements and mail fraud regarding the victims fund, with four others still involved in court proceedings and one person under investigation. The audit did not provide details of those cases.

More personnel are being hired to handle the expected influx of claims in the final weeks, including assignment of administrative law judges to help Feinberg with claim hearings.