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Victims' families plan lawsuits over deadly attacks

Families of airline passengers killed in this week's hijacking attacks have begun contacting lawyers...

Families of airline passengers killed in this week's hijacking attacks have begun contacting lawyers about the possibility of suing the airlines, airports and even Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, attorneys said.

However, the nation's largest group of personal injury lawyers in an unprecedented move called for a moratorium on civil suits over the catastrophic assaults in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

"We, as a nation, must speak at this hour with a single voice, a voice of compassion for the victims and a voice of authority to those who would tear down our society," said Leo Boyle, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, in a message sent to members.

"For this reason, for the first time in our history, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, in this time of national crisis, urges a moratorium on civil lawsuits that might arise out of these awful events. There are more urgent needs that must be served at this time," said Boyle, a Boston lawyer.

A number of firms prominent in aviation law confirmed that they had already been contacted by families of the 226 people killed aboard the planes hijacked in the attacks. Some said it was distasteful to even discuss legal action yet.

"Yes, you don't want to rush to the courthouse but no, you don't want to wait forever," said Gerald Baker a Hoboken, New Jersey, lawyer with Baker, Garber, Duffy & Peterson, which has received several referral calls from other firms.

He said that lawyers cannot delay too long for fear of losing evidence or that possible witnesses might forget important facts.

Aaron Broder of New York's Broder and Reiter said he felt lawyers also needed to act quickly as insurance companies for airlines have already begun lobbying Congress to restrict lawsuits seeking compensation.

Broder said he was in the process of being retained by the family of a victim aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Lee Kreindler, a veteran aviation lawyer who leads a plaintiffs group suing Libya for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, said his New York firm has been consulted by the family of a passenger killed in the New York attack.

He said among possible defendants could be parties responsible for checking passengers for weapons before boarding the plane. The hijackers that carried out the attacks used knives and box cutters to overcome airplane crews.

These defendants could include United Airline and American Airlines as well as subcontractors or airport operators that might have been responsible for checking carry-on items.

Kreindler said bin Laden and Afghanistan, the country where he is being sheltered, might also be named as defendants.

"Clearly, yes, bin Laden could be a defendant," Kreindler said. "He certainly has a lot of money. He would be the most appropriate defendant if we could get him into court."

His firm Kreindler & Kreindler is among several that has sued Libya on behalf of victims' families under a 1996 law allowing individuals to sue foreign governments that are on the U.S. list of nations suspected of sponsoring terrorism. He heads a committee that was established to act on behalf of all the plaintiffs.

Kreindler said Afghanistan is not currently on that list but could be added by legislation. "It may be possible to proceed against them (Afghanistan) as we have done against Libya in Lockerbie," he said.