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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 14:25 GMT
First 11 September lawsuit filed
Debris of the WTC
The 11 September attack killed about 3,000 people
The widow of a passenger on one of the hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre has filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against United Airlines.

The Nolan Law Group, the Chicago firm that filed the suit, believes this is the first action against an airline relating to the 11 September attacks.

The suit alleges United Airlines breached its duty of care for the passengers on Flight 175 which slammed into the south tower of the WTC.

The suit also says that Luis Mariani, a 59-year-old retired sales coordinator, suffered severe fright and terror before dying in the crash.

United Airlines Flight 175 had two pilots, seven flight attendants and 56 passengers.

Everyone aboard died when hijackers flew the plane and a second commercial jetliner into the twin towers, destroying the New York landmark and killing about 3,000 people.

Too many victims, too little money

Despite the bringing of the case by Ellen Mariani, some lawyers believe there will not be too many lawsuits to follow because the airline's liability is limited to $1.5bn (1.03bn) for each of the attacks.

Instead families are expect to claim for compensation from a special fund set up as part of the $15bn airline bail-out bill in September.

This multibillion-dollar Victims Compensation Fund was created to pay the families of those killed or physically injured in the attacks.

However, families are only able to get compensation from the fund if they forfeit their right to sue the airlines or any other parties for damages.

Early settlement

The lawyers, representing Mrs Mariani, said they decided to go ahead with the suit in an effort to reach an early settlement with United Airlines.

However, if their client decides to file a claim against the fund, she can withdraw the lawsuit within 90 days.

According to the lawyer overseeing the fund, the first claims may be submitted on Friday.

The first payments are expected to be sent in about four months.

The average award is expected to be about 1.6m and although the size of the fund was never specified it is estimated to be around $6bn.

See also:

17 Oct 01 | Business
United Airlines 'may perish'
15 Nov 01 | Business
US air crash victims favoured
11 Dec 01 | Americas
Tracing the WTC dead
14 Sep 01 | Business
Insurance costs 'incalculable'
25 Oct 01 | TV and Radio reports
America's day of terror: Timeline
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