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U.S. settles suit in anthrax death

Wed., Nov. 30, 2011

Deal will pay $2.5 million to family of 2001 victim

MIAMI – More than a decade after tabloid photo editor Robert Stevens became the first victim of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the U.S. government has agreed to pay his widow and family $2.5 million to settle their lawsuit, according to documents released Tuesday.

Stevens, 63, died on Oct. 5, 2001, when a letter containing deadly anthrax spores was opened at the then-headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, Sun and Globe tabloids. Eventually four other people would die and 17 others would be sickened in similar letter attacks.

Stevens’ widow, Maureen Stevens, sued the government in 2003, claiming its negligence caused her husband’s death by failing to adequately safeguard anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. The FBI probe concluded that Fort Detrick was the source of the spores used in the attacks in New York, Washington and Florida.

The government failed to carry out its “duty of care, the highest degree of care” in making sure the deadly microbes were kept tightly under lock and key, said the lawsuit.

The case languished for years in procedural delays and appeals until the FBI announced in 2008 that a Fort Detrick scientist, Dr. Bruce Ivins, was responsible for the attacks. Although some of his colleagues and outside experts have raised doubts about his intent and ability to weaponize the anthrax, the FBI formally closed its “Amerithrax” investigation in 2010.

Ivins killed himself with an overdose of Tylenol and valium as investigators closed in.

Stevens’ attorney, Richard Schuler, said when the FBI announced that Ivins was their man that it proved a key allegation in their lawsuit: “We’ve maintained all along this was an inside job,” he said.

Government attorneys who handled the Stevens settlement said in the court papers that it is not “an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States” and that the intent of the deal was “avoiding the expenses and risks of further litigation.”


 

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