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Federal judge grants punitive damages against Iran for suicide bombings

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Thursday granted $300 million in punitive damages in each of two cases against Iran for deaths resulting from suicide bombings by Iranian-backed terrorist groups. The two claims against Iran were brought on behalf of Seth Haim and Alan Beer [opinions, PDF], who were both killed in Israel by suicide bombers. In the opinions by Judge Royce Lamberth [official profile], the court found the the plaintiffs could be awarded damages based on an exception [28 USC § 1605A] to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) for "state-sponsored terrorism." The court said the exception creates a federal right of action against foreign states for which punitive damages may be awarded when the current foreign state was established prior to sponsoring of terrorism, the victim was an employee of the US government acting within the scope of employment, and where the claimant has given the foreign state against whom the action is brought a reasonable opportunity to arbitrate the claim. Lamberth concluded in the Beer case that the court "expresses hope that the sanction it issues today will play a measurable role in changing the conduct of Iran—and other supporters of international terrorism—in the future."

Iran has been the target of suits by US citizens seeking damages for deaths as a result of Iranian-backed terrorist groups. In February 2010, 85 victims of rocket attacks in Israel filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in DC District Court seeking damages from Iran and Iran's central bank for injuries suffered in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The suit claims that Iran, between 2001 and 2006, gave Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] more than $50 million "with the specific intent and purpose of facilitating, enabling and causing Hezbollah to carry out terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets in order to advance Iran's Policy and Goals" of undermining the US and abolishing Israel. In 2009, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Elahi [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the brother of dissident Cyrus Elahi, assassinated in Paris in 1990, cannot collect on a default judgment he holds against Iran by attaching a $2.8 million judgment obtained by the Iranian Ministry of Defense against California-based Cubic Defense Systems [corporate website]. Dariush Elahi was awarded $11.7 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages after Iran refused to respond to his 2000 lawsuit brought in a Washington federal court, alleging that the Iranian government was responsible for his brother's death.

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