RAND Study Shows Compensation For 9/11 Terror Attacks Tops $38 Billion; Businesses Receive Biggest Share

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November 8, 2004

Victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — both individuals killed or seriously injured and individuals and businesses impacted by the strikes — have received at least $38.1 billion in compensation, with insurance companies and the federal government providing more than 90 percent of the payments, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

New York businesses have received 62 percent of the total compensation, reflecting the broad-ranging economic impacts of the attack in and near the World Trade Center. Among individuals killed or seriously injured, emergency responders and their families have received more than civilians and their families who suffered similar economic losses. On average, first responders have received about $1.1 million more per person than civilians with similar economic loss.

The analysis by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice is the most comprehensive examination to date of financial compensation made following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The crashes of passenger planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania together made up the largest terrorist strikes in U.S. history, killing 2,551 civilians and seriously injuring another 215. The attacks also killed or seriously injured 460 emergency responders.

“The compensation paid to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania was unprecedented both in its scope and in the mix of programs used to make payments,” said Lloyd Dixon, a RAND senior economist and lead author of the report. “The system has raised many questions about equity and fairness that have no obvious answers. Addressing these issues now will help the nation be better prepared for future terrorist attacks.”

Dixon and co-author Rachel Kaganoff Stern interviewed and gathered evidence from many sources to estimate the amount of compensation paid out by insurance companies, government agencies and charities following the attacks. Their findings include:

  • Insurance companies expect to make at least $19.6 billion in payments, comprising 51 percent of the money paid in compensation.
  • Government payments total nearly $15.8 billion (42 percent of the total). This includes payments from local, state and federal governments, plus payments from the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 that was established by the federal government to compensate those killed or physically injured in the attacks. The total does not include payments to clean up the World Trade Center site or rebuild public infrastructure in New York City.
  • Payments by charitable groups comprise just 7 percent of the total, despite the fact that charities distributed an unprecedented $2.7 billion to victims of the attacks.

Because of concerns that liability claims would clog the courts and create further economic harm, the federal government limited the liability of airlines, airports and certain government bodies. The government established the Victim Compensation Fund to make payments to families for the deaths and injuries of victims. In addition, the government funded a major economic revitalization program for New York City.

RAND researchers found that businesses hurt by the attacks have received most of the compensation that the study was able to quantify. The families of civilians killed and the civilians who were injured received the second-highest payments. The study found that:

  • Businesses in New York City, particularly in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center, have received $23.3 billion in compensation for property damage, disrupted operations, and economic incentives. About 75 percent of that came from insurance companies. More than $4.9 billion went to revitalize the economy of Lower Manhattan.
  • Civilians killed or seriously injured received a total of $8.7 billion, averaging about $3.1 million per recipient. Most of this came from the Victim Compensation Fund, but payments also came from insurance companies, employers and charities.
  • About $3.5 billion was paid to displaced residents, workers who lost their jobs, or others who suffered emotional trauma or were exposed to environmental hazards.
  • Emergency responders killed or injured received a total of $1.9 billion, with most of that coming from the government. Payments averaged about $1.1 million more per person than for civilians with similar economic losses, with most of the higher amount due to payments from charities.

Certain features of the Victim Compensation Fund tended to increase compensation relative to economic loss. Other features tended to decrease compensation relative to economic loss. Researchers say more detailed individual data are needed to determine the net effect.

For example, the Victim Compensation Fund decided to limit the amount of lost future earnings it would consider when calculating awards for survivors. Administrators capped income the fund would consider at $231,000 per year in projecting future lifetime earnings, even though many people killed earned more than that amount. The special master of the Victim Compensation Fund had substantial discretion to set final awards for higher income earners, but data are not available on how he exercised that discretion.

Many issues of equity have been raised by the compensation process. For example, some people have questioned whether it is fitting that some lives appear to be more valuable than others, as demonstrated by higher payments to emergency responders and people who earned high salaries. Others wonder why the victims of the 2001 attacks received greater compensation than that paid to victims in previous incidents, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Researchers also interviewed people who said it appeared that more effort was made to compensate those killed or physically injured than to aid those with economic losses not related to death or serious injury.

While insurance companies provided the majority of compensation, the RAND researchers warn that there may be less insurance in future domestic terrorist attacks. While before the 2001 attacks terrorism was automatically covered in insurance policies, since then it has been offered as a separate type of coverage, and many businesses have not purchased it. In addition, chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks are now typically excluded.

Researchers say that deciding now what mechanisms should be used to compensate terrorist victims in the future could lead to better use of resources and less duplication of efforts. For example, had the charities known that there would be a victim compensation fund, they might have used their resources differently rather than focusing on providing direct aid to victims killed or seriously injured in the attacks.

A better compensation system for victims of terrorism also would help the nation cope with the aftermath of any future attack and help thwart the aims of terrorism, researchers say. For example, compensation can reduce economic vulnerability to terrorism by affecting how quickly the economy rebounds from an attack and can create incentives to adopt physical security measures and potentially reduce panic and fragmentation.

The RAND Institute for Civil Justice helps make the civil justice system more efficient and equitable by supplying government leaders, private decision makers and the public with the results of objective, empirically based, analytic research.

Printed copies of “Compensation for Losses from the 9/11 Attacks” (ISBN: 0-8330-3691-2) can be ordered from RAND's Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the United States 1-877-584-8642).

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