MIAMI (Reuters) - The widow of a Florida tabloid photo editor who was the first of five people to die in 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States has reached a settlement with the U.S. government in her wrongful death damages lawsuit against it, according to a court filing.
“The parties have reached a tentative settlement subject to required approval by officials in the Department of Justice,” said the October 27 document filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach.
It gave no details of the terms of the settlement.
In her lawsuit originally filed in 2003, Maureen Stevens had argued that her husband, Robert Stevens, died after being exposed to anthrax as a result of alleged negligence on the part of the U.S. government, which she said had failed to safely secure the anthrax bacillus at a military laboratory.
A Justice Department investigation concluded that a U.S. Army scientist, Dr. Bruce Ivins, committed the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, mailing anthrax-laced letters to media outlets and government officials in Florida, New York and the Washington area. Ivins committed suicide in 2008 as prosecutors prepared to charge him with murder for the attacks.
Robert Stevens was the first of five people to die after one of the letters was received at the Boca Raton, Florida building where he worked as a photo editor at the publisher of the National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids,
Maureen Stevens was demanding $50 million in compensatory damages from the U.S. government in her lawsuit.
Besides causing the deaths of five people, the anthrax-tainted letters sickened 17 others and jolted a nation still reeling from the September 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks. The anthrax incidents prompted one of the FBI’s largest investigations ever.
The October 27 court filing said the defendant in the case, the U.S. government, was working “expeditiously” to obtain the required approval for the settlement from the Department of Justice “and has no reason to believe it will not be granted”.
The parties requested that the Florida court suspend all upcoming deadlines in the case for a reasonable time to allow them to finalize the settlement reached.
By 2007, investigators determined that a single-spore batch of anthrax created and maintained by Ivins at his laboratory in Maryland was the parent material for the spores in the letters, although Ivins’ attorney maintained that he was innocent.
Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Eric Walsh