Everyone (outside of the Administration) seems in agreement about one thing: the FBI did an appalling job in investigating the anthrax attack. Not only did they intentionally persecute and accuse the wrong man, they ignored what now appears an obvious suspect. The government has already paid millions in damages and tens of millions in wasted resources from the pursuit of Steven Hatfill. Now the question is whether it will pay millions more for its failure to properly hire and monitor employees. Bruce Ivins fits perfectly into a negligence case alleging failure to properly hire and monitor employees. One such case is already pending.
The details on Ivins’ suspicious conduct and incriminating connections has led many to wonder how the FBI could focus so quickly and exclusively on Hatfill. Just as it did with Richard Jewell, the FBI clearly worked to pressure Hatfill, even harassing his employers and leaking facts to the media. As with Jewell, it was so obsessed with Hatfill that it ignored other leaks. Yet, no one has been held accountable for yet another moronic and destructive investigation. Instead the public has again paid millions for the incompetence of FBI investigators.
Given that history, it is not surprising that we may have to pay more. Now that the incompetence of the FBI in the investigation has been established, the question becomes the incompetence of the government in its hiring and supervision of Ivins. With his instability and bizarre conduct, it is strange that he was allowed to continue in a position of such sensitivity with access to some of the most lethal substances on Earth.
Private employers routinely are sued for the failure to detect and remove dangerous or unstable employees. Even if they are not liable under respondeat superior, they are often found liable for direct negligence in the hiring and supervision of employees.
Ivins worked for 35 years at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., but never seemed to be the focus of review for his problems in his private life.
One 2003 lawsuit was filed by the family of Robert Stevens, the photo editor who died after anthrax was mailed to his company’s headquarters. They are seeking $50 million. The release of the information recently by the FBI and its conclusion that Ivins was the culprit is the ultimate data dump in litigation. Their lawsuit was just improved ten-fold by the defendant in the case.
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