High court allows bigger award in 1998 embassy bombings case

Security officers, one wearing a mask, walk in front of the Supreme Court, Thursday, May 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Security officers, one wearing a mask, walk in front of the Supreme Court, Thursday, May 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Supreme Court is allowing a bigger award of money to victims of the 1998 bombings by al-Qaida of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Despite the court’s ruling, however, the victims may only ever collect a fraction of the billions of dollars a lower court awarded.

The nearly simultaneous truck bombings at the embassies killed 224 people and injured thousands. They were the first major attacks on U.S. targets by al-Qaida.

The case the Supreme Court ruled in involves lawsuits filed by victims and their families against Sudan. The lawsuits accused the country of causing the bombings by aiding al-Qaida and leader Osama bin Laden, who lived in Sudan in the 1990s.

The more than 500 people involved in the case are mostly foreign citizens, either U.S. government employees or contractors injured in the bombings or relatives of those who died.

A court initially awarded the group more than $10 billion, but an appeals court threw out about $4 billion of the award that was punitive damages.

The Supreme Court said Monday that the appeals court was wrong and that a federal law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, allows punitive damages in the case. The court reinstated a portion of the $4 billion in punitive damages and sent the case back to the appeals court for additional proceedings.

“Congress was as clear as it could have been when it authorized plaintiffs to seek and win punitive damages” in cases like this one, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the eight justices who participated in the case and were unanimous in their decision.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh didn’t participate in the case. He was involved in the case at a previous stage while he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.