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Mass. kin, airline settle nation’s last 9/11 suit

Family wanted trial to show security gaps

Mark Bavis was one of the 56 passengers on United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. Mark Bavis was one of the 56 passengers on United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center.
By Bella English
Globe Staff / September 20, 2011

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After nearly 10 years of wrongful death litigation, the family of Mark Bavis, a Roslindale native and a professional hockey scout killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reached a settlement yesterday with United Airlines and its security contractor. The family was the lone holdout among the thousands that either accepted money from the $7 billion Victim Compensation Fund or settled their lawsuits.

Until now, Bavis family members had steadfastly refused to settle their suit, saying they wanted a trial so they could reveal just how woefully inadequate airport security measures were on the day the hijackers boarded at Logan International Airport.

Family members attributed their change of heart about settling to frustration over the legal system that they say gutted their case by limiting its scope.

“For almost 10 years, my family never even considered the word ‘settle,’ ’’ said Mike Bavis, Mark’s identical twin brother. “We were always going to trial. How that changed has everything to do with the court, the legal system, and the rulings from Judge [Alvin] Hellerstein.’’ The amount of damages in the settlement is confidential.

The lawsuit, said Mike Bavis, was about “wrongful death, gross negligence, and a complete lack of appreciation for the value of human life.’’ Instead, the judge changed it to a case about federal regulations, he said.

The trial had been set to begin Nov. 7 in federal court in Manhattan.

Mark Bavis was one of the 56 passengers who departed Logan International Airport on United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. The 31-year-old Newton resident was headed to a Los Angeles Kings training camp in Los Angeles.

The settlement came 12 days after Hellerstein ruled Sept. 7 that United Airlines and its security contractor, Huntleigh USA, had to prove only that they adhered to federal aviation safety standards, and didn’t have to meet the state standards of wrongful death that the plaintiffs had sought. The defense then asked the judge to dismiss the case.

In response, the Bavises’ lawyers late Friday filed a 100-page brief with 127 exhibits outlining the evidence they intended to present at trial, including depositions obtained from more than 200 screeners working on Sept. 11, 2001, at Logan, their supervisors, chiefs of security for the airline, and Federal Aviation Administration officials.

The testimony revealed that the five terrorists who boarded Flight 175 passed through screeners at United Airlines who did not speak English - one even required a translator for her deposition - did not know who Osama bin Laden was or what Al Qaeda was, and were inexperienced and underpaid. In addition, many of the screeners on duty that day “did not know what Mace and pepper spray were.’’

According to the documents, screeners and their supervisors failed to act on the suspicious behavior of two of the hijackers, who were let through even though they didn’t speak English and could not respond to security questions. Additional screening, the Bavis lawyers allege, would have included a hand search of their carry-on bags, which contained knives, Mace, and pepper spray.

A spokesman for United Airlines said in a statement yesterday that “the tragic events of 9/11 impacted all of us, and we are pleased to resolve this case.’’ A lawyer for Huntleigh did not return repeated telephone calls.

With the release of the depositions, the Bavises were able to accomplish a major goal, said Mike Bavis: to make public the airline’s failure to screen passengers adequately.

“Is this a moral victory?’’ he said. “It depends on what happens. If the government and the FAA are more accountable in doing their jobs, then it will be worth it.’’

Mary Bavis and her six surviving children filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2002 against United, Huntleigh, and Massport, which runs Logan Airport, but Hellerstein dismissed the claim against Massport in July.

“The entire Logan Airport community will forever carry in its heart the events of 9/11,’’ David S. Mackey, Massport’s interim chief executive and longtime legal counsel, said after the claim was dismissed. “Our thoughts and prayers will always be with the victims of that tragic day and their families.’’

Mary Bavis is 80 now and still lives in the Roslindale home where she and her husband raised their children. Richard Bavis, a Boston police officer, died in 1990 of heart failure at age 62.

In an interview in August, Mary Bavis told the Globe that she and her children decided just after Sept. 11, 2001, that they needed answers about how the hijackers got on board Flight 175.

“The big thing, in our hearts and soul, was we really feel as if security and United should have spotted these guys,’’ she said. “Every time I hear an airplane, it’s like a stab in my heart. It brings it all back.’’

The family’s lawyer, Donald Migliori of the firm Motley Rice, said yesterday that the settlement was the result of the family’s frustration with court delays and rulings, and its relief that the depositions were finally released.

“It has been a long battle for this family to get to this point,’’ he said. “I think in the end what the family wants is to be able to give Mark voice, and to the extent these documents have been shared with the public - long after the lawsuit is closed, they hope it contributes to the discussion about safety in the air.’’

Migliori said more depositions in the case will remain sealed because they contain “sensitive security information’’ that the Transportation Security Administration has determined is confidential.

Mike Bavis said the easiest way to prevent the “tragedy and horror’’ of 9/11 would have been “to have an airline industry that made a reasonable effort to provide security for its passengers. The evidence shows that they most certainly did not.’’

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.