Amid thousands of settlements and thousands more lawsuits winding their way through the U.S. court system six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, there remains a small, anomalous group of 9/11 victim families whose grief has apparently overwhelmed their desire for any compensation.
Among the families of the 2,974 who died, about 13 families have never signed up for the compensation fund or filed a lawsuit, Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund special master Kenneth Feinberg told ABC News.
"They were paralyzed by grief," Feinberg said last week. "I met with most of them. They were so overcome with the recent death of a loved one that they were clinically depressed. Some of them couldn't get out of bed. I offered to fill [the fund] forms out for them and get all the details together and they just said, 'Just leave it on the kitchen table.'"
"And I never heard from them," he said. "My biggest single disappointment was that 13 families did nothing. They never filed with the fund. They never filed a lawsuit."
Feinberg did not provide the names of the families, and while the names of fund claimants were posted on the U.S. Department of Justice's Compensation Fund Web site as claims were made, they were removed 90 days after posting. The last name was removed in June 2004, presenting a challenge to accurately matching a comprehensive list of claimant names and court filings with the official list of 2,974 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to determine the identities of those the families.
None of the dozens of lawyers, advocates, victim families, government officials and medical personnel who spoke to ABC News, on or off the record, fault the 97 percent of victim families that filed for settlements with the fund or the families who opted to file lawsuits.
But it's clear that the families who didn't seek compensation are the tiniest of minorities. Elsewhere in the globe-spanning, gut-wrenching matrix of 9/11 litigation, vexing legal battles rage on, as heated and unsettled today as the fires that still burned on the wasteland of wreckage at "the Pile" months after the two towers had fallen.
Meanwhile, the numbers of newly diagnosed respiratory ailments among rescue and recovery workers continues to swell each year, according to city health officials, increasing the prospect of Sept. 11 litigation stretching well into the next decade.
The lawsuits pit sick recovery workers and residents against the city and the federal government, contractors and building owners against insurance companies, and victim families against the airlines, the U.S. government, foreign governments and international organizations, with billions and billions of dollars at stake and with no end in sight.
"This litigation is unprecedented,'' said Gregory Cannata, lead counsel for about 600 workers who became sick after cleaning the debris and dust from buildings near the twin towers, and who is involved in representing thousands of more recovery and cleanup workers who toiled at ground zero.
The collapse of the World Trade Center towers brought 200,000 tons of steel, 600,000 square feet of window glass, 5,000 tons of asbestos, 12,000 miles of electric cables and 425,000 cubic yards of concrete crashing down into lower Manhattan, according to a joint city and federal report issued in September 2002.