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9/11 kin hope lawsuit forces change

Say security rules weren't enforced

METHUEN -- The family of a woman who died during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, isn't counting on being awarded any money in a lawsuit filed against an airline and a security company, but family members hope that significant changes are forced on the airline industry by embarrassing in-court revelations.

Such changes, they believe, could foil future attacks.

"That's what we're looking for, and that's the type of thing you're not getting in the 9/11 Commission meetings," said Lance Koutny, whose mother-in-law, Marie Pappalardo, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, which was flown into the World Trade Center's south tower.

"There's got to be some big things" that haven't been revealed, Maria Koutny, Pappalardo's daughter, told the Eagle-Tribune. "So yeah, there'll definitely be some bombshells."

Proving that United Airlines and security company Huntleigh USA Corp. were negligent, the Koutnys hope, will spark the kind of public outrage they think is their last, best chance to force change.

"Even after Sept. 11, people think it's safe to fly," she said. "If I don't get any money and the airlines don't go out of business, at least people will be educated."

The Koutnys, of Methuen, are one of about 100 families among families of of the nearly 3,000 victims who have decided to opt out of the federal government's compensation fund and reserve their right to sue the airlines. Those who chose to accept money from the fund waived their right to sue.

Alvin Hellerstein, a federal judge in New York, is overseeing lawsuits from families not participating in the compensation fund and he and lawyers are currently sifting through the claims.

The bailout Congress gave the airlines 10 days after the attacks limited those companies' liability to the planes' $1.5 billion insurance policies. So even with a victory in court, the Koutnys and other victims' families face the possibility of sharing the award with the owners of the destroyed towers, and the airlines would essentially feel no real loss.

Instead, victims' families want to show that the airlines and security companies did not follow their own security regulations -- using, for example, the discovery in 2002 of an airline operations guide banning box cutters like those used by the hijackers. The airlines had insisted such devices were not banned.

"People still aren't aware of the things the airlines did or did not do, and that's very frustrating," Maria Koutny said.

The Koutnys said that accepting a cash settlement was tempting -- they were offered $250,000 -- and they could have done lots of good with the money, but ultimately they would not have felt good about themselves.

No settlement, Maria Koutny said, can erase the knowledge of her mother's final moments. The planes flew so violently and fast that some passengers became physically ill, the Koutnys say, citing FBI accounts given to families, and everybody on board almost certainly knew their fate.

The Koutnys say they can't help but use that knowledge as motivation.

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