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Trial lawyers urge restraint after N.Y. calamity

By Roger Cossack
CNN Legal Analyst

(CNN) -- The terrorist attack last week reached far beyond New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Some U.S. businesses are desperately trying to survive, most notably the airlines, some of which fear they could be held responsible for the death and destruction on the ground.

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The tens of billions of dollars in liability would bankrupt them for sure, and what happens to them in the courts may determine whether or not they continue to exist.

"There are no precedents in law dealing with a tragedy of this type where somebody intentionally caused the death of 5,000 people and you sue somebody else to blame them for that murder, that is new," said Victor Schwartz, a trial attorney.

In the wake of the attacks, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America made an unprecedented move: It sent e-mails to lawyers across the United States asking for restraint.

"It is a time to wait a minute and find out what the facts really are, before you should run to the courthouse," said Leo Boyle, a representative of the association. "And I think you should convey that to your client, with sympathy obviously, but think about why you are going to do before you jump."

On Capitol Hill, the bipartisan leadership in the House has reached a deal with the White House on a $15 billion bailout of the airline industry. But the questions remain whether Congress should protect the airlines from litigation, and, if so, how far should this protection should go.

The number of potential plaintiffs is enormous. Relatives of those who lost their lives on the planes or in the buildings are at the top of the list. The legal community's challenge is considering the needs of the families at a time when airlines themselves could be at their most vulnerable.

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