The nonprofit Trial Lawyers Care launched September 24, 2001 in response to the events of 9/11. Members chose to help in the way they knew best: by providing free legal help to individuals and families devastated by the attacks. TLC quickly became the largest pro bono civil legal project in history. AAJ wrote to leaders in both houses of Congress, pledging to represent every victim of 9/11 free of charge; these letters were read aloud on the floor of each house.
“On the night of September 12, a committee of trial lawyers authorized a press statement, to be issued the next morning, calling for a moratorium on the filing of civil lawsuits arising out of the attacks. Although the moratorium had no force of law, it was honored for many months after the attacks; it was finally broken not by a victim, but by an insurance company, which sued one of its insureds to disclaim coverage for the loss of the trade center buildings,” the nonprofit says on their website.
The first responders on that day are still feeling the effects: they are 239% more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and 1,400 first responders have died from health complications stemming from their work at Ground Zero after being expose to highly toxic dust that contained asbestos, glass shards, cement, and other toxins.
Larry S. Stewart, who led the initial effort, said of their work, “TLC had no offices, policies, budget or staff. None of the officers or board members had ever run a pro bono program. The U.S. Department of Justice was beginning to formulate regulations to govern the compensation fund’s operation. Thousands of families were mired in overwhelming shock and grief, and some lawyers were beginning to solicit for-fee clients, claiming that victims who chose free legal services would ‘get what they pay for.’ Given these challenges, TLC’s organizers knew that complete success was the only option.”
Following that year, many of the trial lawyers chose to continue the efforts to volunteer to help their communities in times of need. WSAJ’s Trial Lawyers Care program earlier this year provided free legal service to victims of the Oso Mudslide and in previous years has worked on wildfires and similar natural disasters. The program is currently rebooting for the new year. While we hope these kinds of events never happen, our members are prepared to help as best they can whenever disaster strikes.