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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Families of USS Cole Victims Awarded $48M

NORFOLK, Va. (CN) - The government of Sudan must pay nearly $50 million to the families of sailors killed in the USS Cole bombing in 2000 for its role in helping terrorists carry out the attack.

The Oct. 12, 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, killed 17 sailors from the Norfolk area. It was the deadliest attack against an American naval vessel since 1987.

In July 2004, 59 surviving family members of the killed sailors filed suit against the Republic of Sudan for knowingly and willfully providing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida with material support for their attack on the Cole.

At the end of the March 2007 trial, the families won more than $7.9 million in "economic losses." U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar noted, however, that U.S. law does not offer a remedy for the survivors' psychological and emotional losses.

Soon after the families appealed, Congress amended the relevant statute to create the sought-after cause of action. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 allows plaintiffs suing state sponsors of terrorism to seek punitive damages and recovery for pain and suffering.

As the families tried to reopen their case and amend their complaint in light of the new law, Sudan objected to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction and refused to participate further.

The families renewed their effort to hold the Sudanese government to account in April 2010.

In April 2014, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar concluded that while the Sudanese government might not have been directly responsible for the attack, it was clearly involved.

But Doumar delayed a decision on just how much each family member of the victims would receive, and in the interim, an appeals court increased the number of family members who should receive money under the judge's ruling.

In his March 15 opinion, Doumar awarded $34 million in damages for emotional pain and suffering to 61 of the 63 plaintiffs, and $14 million in punitive damages.

Doumar ruled surviving spouses would receive $1 million, surviving children would receive $600,000, surviving parents would receive $300,000, and surviving siblings would receive $50,000.

The judge disqualified two plaintiffs from receiving damages. They are Novella Wiggins, fiancée of the late James Rodrick McDaniels, and Sean Walsh, half-brother of the late Patrick Howard Roy.

Doumar also reduced damages for one deceased female sailor's parent, Hugh Palmer, to $10,000 after determining he did not play a significant role in her upbringing.

According to Doumar, "The Court does not deny that these individuals have suffered extreme grief, but precedent has clearly defined the "immediate family" requirement to bar their recovery."

"The Court believes that any punitive damages award in excess of this amount would amount to rewarding Plaintiffs for the death of a loved one, as opposed to awarding them just compensation based on their very real grief," Doumar said.

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