The family of Mark Bavis of Roslindale reached a settlement today with United Airlines and its security contractor, after nearly 10 years of wrongful death litigation against them. The family was the lone holdout among the thousands that either accepted money from a $7 billion Victims Compensation Fund or settled their lawsuits.
The amount of damages is confidential. The Bavis family attributed its change of heart to frustration over the legal system.
“For almost 10 years, my family never even considered the word ‘settle,’” said Mike Bavis, the identical twin brother of Mark Bavis, a pro hockey scout from Roslindale killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “We were always going to trial. How that changed has everything to do with the court, the legal system and the rulings from Judge Hellerstein.” The trial was set to begin Nov. 7 in federal court in Manhattan with Judge Alvin Hellerstein presiding.
Mark Bavis was one of the 56 passengers on United Flight 175 out of Logan International Airport, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. He was 31 years old, headed to a Los Angeles Kings training camp in Los Angeles. Families of the other victims either settled their complaints or were granted awards through the fund set up by the US government to handle claims and to stabilize the airline industry after 9/11.
The settlement came 12 days after after Hellerstein ruled Sept. 7 that United Airlines and its security contractor, Huntleigh USA, had to prove that they adhered to federal aviation safety standards, not the state standards of wrongful death that the plaintiffs had sought. The defense asked the judge to dismiss the case.
In response, the Bavis’s attorneys Friday filed a 100-page brief with 127 exhibits outlining the evidence they intended to present at trial, including depositions obtained from more than 200 screeners working on Sept. 11, 2001, at Logan International Airport, their supervisors, chiefs of security for the airline, and FAA officials.
The testimony revealed that the five terrorists who boarded Flight 175 passed through screeners at United Airlines who did not speak English — one even required a translator for her deposition — did not know who Osama bin Laden was or what Al Qaeda was, and were inexperienced and underpaid. In addition, many of the screeners on duty that day “did not know what Mace and pepper spray were.”
According to the documents, both screeners and their supervisors failed to act on the suspicious behavior of two of the hijackers, who were let through even though they didn’t speak English and could not respond to security questions. Additional screening of them, the Bavis attorneys allege, would have included a hand search of their carry-on bags, which contained knives, Mace and pepper spray.
With the release of the depositions, the Bavises were able to accomplish a major goal of theirs, says Mike Bavis: to make public the airline’s failure to adequately screen passengers. “The public should realize this private law firm went way beyond the federal commission appointed to investigate 9/11,” he said. “We took it as far as the court allowed us to.”
Asked how he felt about the turn of events, he replied: “Is this a moral victory? It depends on what happens. If the government and the FAA are more accountable in doing their jobs, then it will be worth it.”
In 2002, Mary Bavis and her six surviving children filed the wrongful death lawsuit against United, Huntleigh and Massport, which runs Logan Airport, but Hellerstein dismissed the claim against Massport in July.
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.