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Florida Court Mulls Liability for Anthrax Death


The Florida Supreme Court is considering whether the U.S. government and an Ohio research firm can be held liable for an anthrax mailing that killed a journalist in 2001, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, Aug. 3, 2007).

American Media Inc. photo editor Bob Stevens received an anthrax-tainted envelope on Sept. 19, 2001, and died just over two weeks later. Maureen Stevens claimed in a lawsuit that the material that killed her husband came from a U.S. Army biological defense laboratory in Maryland or the Battelle Memorial Institute.

U.S. Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Bucholtz and Battelle attorney Tami Lyn Azorsky in oral arguments yesterday contended it was not possible to anticipate the 2001 anthrax mailings because the material had never previously been used in acts of terrorism. They noted that their clients possessed the anthrax to develop treatments and protective measures.

Attorney Phillip Burlington, representing Stevens, said the entities should have foreseen the possibility of someone acquiring the anthrax for illicit use. It remains unknown who mailed the anthrax that killed five people or how that person obtained the disease agent.

“When you are dealing with biological warfare materials it is not unreasonable in this day and age to expect the government to reasonably anticipate that, or a private lab,” Burlington said.

The arguments were conducted at the request of a federal appeals court determining whether the lawsuit, which includes negligence claims for failing to secure the anthrax, has legal grounding. There was no word on the schedule for a decision by the Florida court (Bill Kaczor, Associated Press/Google News, May 5).