The widow of a tabloid photo editor who died in the 2001 anthrax mailings has settled her lawsuit against the U.S. government. Maureen Stevens, a Florida resident, and the government reached a tentative agreement that must be approved by the Justice Department. In her lawsuit, filed in a West Palm Beach federal court in 2003, Mrs. Stevens claimed that the government was at fault in failing to stop someone from working at an Army infectious disease lab from creating weapons-grade anthrax used in letters that killed five people and sickened 17 others. Her husband, Robert Stevens, was the first victim. A trial in her case had been set for early 2012.
Robert Stevens worked in Boca Raton at American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, Sun and Globe tabloids, when he was exposed to anthrax. He died on October 5, 2001. The government contended that there was no proof its actions, or lack of adequate security or precautions, directly caused Mr. Stevens’ death. Mrs. Stevens contended that the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., had a history dating to 1992 of missing pathogens and failure to track dangerous microbes. The government denied that claim. An FBI criminal investigation concluded in 2010 that a lone federal scientist, Dr. Bruce Ivins, staged the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001. The anthrax was mailed to locations in Florida, New York and Washington, D.C., including a Senate office building.
Dr. Ivins committed suicide in 2008 as the investigation closed in around him. New documents filed in the Stevens’ lawsuit in the spring cast doubt on whether Dr. Ivins acted alone. In sworn statements, two of his superiors said they didn’t believe the scientist was solely to blame for the attacks. According to the statements, W. Russell Byrne, the chief of bacteriology at the biodefense lab from 1998 to early 2000, told Mr. Stevens’ lawyers that Dr. Ivins “did not have the lab skills to make the fine powdered anthrax used in the letters” and that it would have been difficult for him to do the work at night undetected.
Gerard Andrews, who was chief of bacteriology at the biodefense lab from 2000 to 2003, told the lawyers it would have taken Dr. Ivins six months to a year to refine the anthrax spores used in the deadly mailings, instead of the roughly 20 hours the FBI found he spent at night in the lab. Andrews also said Dr. Ivins did not have the expertise to do the work and some of the necessary equipment wasn’t available at Fort Detrick at the time. The U.S. government reached a $5.8 million settlement with another former Fort Detrick scientist, Steven Hatfill, whom then-Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly identified as “a person of interest” in the investigation in 2001. Dr. Hatfill was eventually cleared, and he sued the government, accusing the Justice Department of violating his privacy. Richard Schuler represented Mrs. Stevens in this case and he did a very good job.
Source: Insurance Journal
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