Flatow Amendment: Right to sue state sponsors of terror for damages

U.S. citizens gained the right to sue foreign state sponsors of terror for punitive damages with this amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

On the 22 nd anniversary of the death in Israel of 20-year-old U.S. college student Alisa Flatow at the hands of a suicide bomber, it is appropriate to recognize her legacy. Because of her, Congress created the right of private citizens in U.S. courts to sue state sponsors of terror for damages for injury and death from state-sponsored terrorist attacks.

Alisa Flatow's story

In 1995, Flatow, a native of New Jersey, was taking a semester abroad in Israel during her junior year at Brandeis University when she took an ill-fated bus ride to the beach. A suicide bomber drove his vehicle into the bus, causing an explosion that took the lives of Flatow and seven young Israeli soldiers. The bomber was linked to Iranian-supported Hamas.

The Flatow Amendment

Under an amendment to federal law for which he had advocated, Flatow's father gained the right to personally file a lawsuit against Iran for damages - including punitive damages - for his daughter's wrongful death. The U.S. District Court awarded $247.5 million in damages against Iran for Flatow's death, $225 million of which were punitive, meant to punish the wrongdoer and to act as a deterrent to other similar actors. The rest of the award was to compensate for the loss of life.

The so-called Flatow Amendment is part of a narrow exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act's grant of legal immunity to the governments of other countries from being sued in U.S. courts. The legislation gave courts in the United States authority to award money damages to citizens in private suits for injury or death from acts of state-sponsored terror. Most noteworthy, courts were given the power to grant punitive damages, considered the "teeth" of the new law.

The family's persistence in seeking justice for their daughter has benefited other victims and families with similar losses by strengthening the right to sue state sponsors of terror directly for damages, especially punitive damages.

Seek legal advice

Anyone who has been injured in an act of terrorism or who has lost a loved one in such circumstances should seek legal advice from an attorney with specific experience in Flatow Amendment cases. A lawyer who is familiar with these complex lawsuits is important, especially because the mechanisms for collecting such judgments are especially complicated and challenging.

The lawyers of Fay Law Group, P.A., with offices in Washington D.C. and Rockville, Silver Spring and Frederick, Maryland, represents the victims of terrorism in personal injury claims against state sponsors of terror as well as the surviving loved ones of those killed in terroristic incidents in wrongful death suits. We represent these plaintiffs in the DC area, throughout Maryland and across the country.