Bridge collapse victim, fund manager reflect on Boston fund - KMSP-TV

Bridge collapse victim, fund manager reflect on Boston fund

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

With medical bills mounting for the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings, a compensation fund for victims has already raised $20 million to help -- but these funds can become controversial.

Many people consider the fund established after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse to be a textbook example of how they are done correctly, but while lessons can be learned from the Minnesota disaster, the circumstances facing Boston are different.

In Minnesota, the bridge collapse fund was comprised of public money from the state. In Boston, the fund is fueled by private contributions.

Even so, both rely on a calculation that takes into account medical bills and lost income, but no formula, no matter how compassionate, can compensate for lives that will never be quite the same.

"How should we distribute the money?" asked Ken Feinberg, who oversaw the victim fund for the Sept. 11 attacks. "It's not a lot of money when you look at it."

Although it may seem impossible to put a price on the loss of a life or a limb, Feinberg will try to ensure the victim compensation fund will do just that.

"The blueprint was 9/11," said Chris Messerly, an attorney who organized the compensation fund in Minnesota.

Messerly told FOX 9 News he started by using the victim fund in New York as a template as he began to organize the compensation fund for the survivors of the bridge collapse and the families of the 13 who died.

"We didn't think, at the beginning, we could get anything for these folks because of the obstacles," Messerly admitted.

The biggest obstacle of all was a Minnesota law that capped state liability at $1 million -- total -- for everyone. In the end, the state provided $37 million and a panel of court-appointed special masters divided it among 179 claims. Settlements ranged from $4,500 for minor injuries to $2 million for families who lost a loved one.

"No one ran away with an enormous amount of money," said Garrett Ebling, whose car took a 100-foot nose dive.

Ebling was left with brain trauma, a broken nose and a shattered face, but he said the claims process was fair and it offered a measure of healing.

"A lot of us just wanted to be heard," he explained. "I felt it was done with a mixture of things -- that it was done with some compassion. I felt the special masters listened and understood what the loss was."

The victims of the 35W bridge collapse also received compensation from the construction company working on the bridge and the engineering firm hired to inspect it. In all, victim compensation totaled $100 million.

Yet, Ebling said the money -- no matter the amount - will never change the scars or memories of that deadly day in august.

"I'd trade every cent I got for a chance to get the old body I had before I got the injuries," he admitted.

Ebling lost his sense of smell and taste, which raises an interesting question about how to compensate for the loss of a sense -- or post-traumatic stress, which he also dealt with.

There is also another key difference between the bridge fund and the Boston fund, because -- like the victims of 9/11, the Minnesota victims had to give up their right to sue. Since Boston's fund is built with private contributions, the victims won't have to do that -- although, it is unclear who they may file a suit against.

Victims of the Boston Marathon bombing can begin to register for the fund online, at onefundboston.org, or by phone, at 855-617-FUND, beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Checks to the fund can be sent by mail to the following address:

One Fund Boston, Inc.
800 Boylston Street #990009
Boston, MA 02199

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