911 Firefighters’ Families Lose Bid to Sue Over Faulty Radios

January 19, 2006

Families of New York firefighters killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, failed this week to persuade the Supreme Court to allow them to go forward with a lawsuit against New York City and Motorola for supplying the rescuers with faulty radios.

The high court let stand a decision by a lower appellate court that dismissed the lawsuit, which had blamed the city and Motorola for supplying firefighters with handheld communications devices that prevented them from hearing evacuation orders while they were in the north tower trying to rescue people.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said the families had waived their right to sue when they accepted money from the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The fund was created when Congress passed the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act, which was designed to keep airlines from being ruined financially and sending the nation’s economy into further chaos.

The firefighters’ families argued that the lower courts had misinterpreted the law and Congress’ intent.

The families accused New York and Motorola of entering into a fraudulent, no-bid contract that supplied firefighters with ineffective radios that city and company officials knew for years did not work in high-rise buildings.

The Sept. 11 Commission, created by Congress to investigate the government’s performance leading up to the attacks, devoted a portion of its report to the communications problems.

The equipment carried by firefighters on Sept. 11 was the same model that had been used by rescuers during the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. It didn’t work then, the commission said, and it didn’t work on Sept. 11.

In court filings, Motorola didn’t address the complaints about the radios but argued that Congress had given the families a choice of filing a lawsuit or accepting money from the fund. By opting for compensation from the fund, the company said, the families “waived their right” to sue.

New York’s Fire Department lost 343 members on Sept. 11.

The case is Virgilio v. New York and Motorola, 05-488.

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