Nearly one year ago, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) launched its Marathon Assistance Project to match volunteer lawyers with clients facing a range of legal issues created by the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Some lawyers volunteered to represent individual victims of the bombings. Others volunteered to assist small, independent businesses affected by the bombings. Through the Marathon Assistance Project, the BBA responded to 100% of the requests for assistance from the community.
In response to the BBA’s request for volunteers, we signed up to help two individuals injured by the bombings prepare their submissions to the One Fund. We met with our clients, gathered medical records and information, requested additional information from hospitals when necessary, wrote clear descriptions of the injuries sustained, and, for one client, appeared for an in-person interview with the One Fund.
One of our clients, a Marathon spectator, was standing on Boylston Street outside of a restaurant just yards away from the second blast. She was wounded by shrapnel and sent by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where doctors told her that an X-ray indicated that her injuries did not warrant overnight hospitalization. Despite her return home that same day, her troubles were not over; in the next few weeks, she experienced persistent ankle pain, concussive-like symptoms, hearing loss, and pain. A subsequent MRI revealed that two pieces of shrapnel were still lodged in her ankle, and doctors also determined that she had experienced a concussion and sustained inner ear damage. The injuries left her in a leg cast and using crutches for several months following the bombings, and today she still has difficulty with such simple matters as descending stairs or standing for a length of time.
Our other client was standing approximately 15 yards from one of the blasts. Immediately following the explosion, he suffered significant and persistent hearing problems. In the days and weeks after the bombings, he sought medical attention and was treated for his continued tinnitus.
Although both of our clients received a distribution from the One Fund in 2013, they continue to live with the impact of their experiences on Boylston Street one year ago. The charitable contribution, while deeply appreciated and helpful, did not represent the end of their Marathon bombing experience.
For our part, we learned that there very much was a need, and place, for volunteer lawyer advocates in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings. Certainly, the One Fund’s claims process was designed to be navigable by a layperson, and it was possible for victims to make successful claims without assistance. Still, that process involved gathering documents, drafting a persuasive explanation of the injuries sustained, and getting the submission notarized — a practical problem, especially for someone who was immobile. All of those requirements came at a time when individual victims were rightly focused on their recoveries, both physical and emotional. BBA volunteers were able to take on this work for their clients, reducing the burden on people who, at that time, already had significant new challenges to address.
From our perspective, the BBA’s Marathon Assistance Project was valuable for another reason, which had less to do with the need for legal expertise. People injured in the bombings, and their families, experienced a shocking and tragic event. In our meetings with them, we sensed that, separate and apart from the usefulness of legal help, they appreciated the simple fact that an established Boston institution, and individuals associated with it, were listening to and supporting them. It seemed that the mere existence of the project sent, and was gratefully received as, a powerful signal that affected individuals were part of a community that intended to embrace and assist them. This message was reinforced by the fact that the BBA’s effort was one part of a constellation of other community contributions — including similar initiatives from other legal groups, monetary donations from across the globe (more than 195,000 individuals donated to the One Fund alone), and the unparalleled dedication and sacrifice shown by Boston medical professionals and first responders.
For these reasons, we are grateful to have been able to play a small part in the BBA’s Marathon Assistance Project, and to work with other attorneys who volunteered through that project, or otherwise, to address challenges created as a result of the bombings. Some of those experiences are detailed in the following articles. Shannon Capone Kirk represented a woman who was standing on Boylston Street and suffered significant hearing loss as a result of the bombings. Jon Cowen and Rosanna Sattler represented several small businesses in the area around the Marathon finish line that were forced to close for 10 days while the crime scene was processed. Sue Abbott and Lisa McChesney explain how they worked with the City of Boston to establish the One Fund and obtain expedited tax-exempt status from the IRS, a process that typically takes up to 18 months but which they accomplished in just one month. The experiences of those volunteer lawyers — a small subset of the BBA members who volunteered — are told in the following articles.
David S. Clancy is a partner, Christopher G. Clark is an associate, and Emily Jennings was a summer associate, in the Boston office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Their litigation practice encompasses a broad array of matters affecting public and private companies, including class action, securities law, insurance, intellectual property, employment, and transaction-related disputes at the trial and appellate levels.
On April 15, 2013, I was thankfully in Palm Springs with my family for a wedding. I say “thankfully” because my husband is an ultra-marathoner. He’d wanted to do the Boston Marathon, but we had to attend my cousin’s wedding clear across the country. Being three hours behind, I woke up to the unbelievable. Just like on 9/11, at first I couldn’t process the images I was seeing. And then red. We all saw red. I yelled to my then nine-year-old son to leave the room.
“That’s blood on the pavement on Boylston,” I said.
I hated this feeling on 9/11. And I hated this feeling on 4/15. This feeling of the world crashing. Of incapacity. Of the deepest empathy for others you can feel—and yet, the competing certainty you are helpless to help anyone. Later, Fox, CNN, all of them, kept showing pictures of Martin Richard, the boy who died. A boy. My son cuddled close on the couch. I wept. We went home after the wedding, and life went on as life goes on, and work got busy as work gets busy. And I remained unhelpful.
A few months later, on June 13, 2013, the Boston Bar Association reached out to the Pro Bono committee at Ropes & Gray seeking assistance for a bombing victim with her One Fund application. I’d need to meet the victim in person in Salem, New Hampshire, the very next day; she couldn’t converse on the phone given her hearing loss from the bombing. Being from New Hampshire and suddenly remembering that awful feeling of incapacity, I snapped at the request, hopeful I could do something. Plus, she was only in Salem. Salem doesn’t require a plane ticket or visa or passport like a lot of my regular work. It was literally the least I could do.
Gretchen greeted me kindly at her husband’s office in Salem. She leaned in with her ear to listen to my “hello,” and then turned to lean into my face to shake my hand.
“You’ll need to speak slow so I can read your lips,” she said.
I started thinking about my mother in these initial minutes with Gretchen. Trying to explain what I do for a living to my mother, who for as long as I can remember denied having a hearing problem, used to dissolve into a mess of loud words. A mismatch of understanding at a raucous family dinner table.
“What?” she’d squawk loudly, even though she sat to my caddy-corner left. Her face would scrunch and her eyes would close.
“….[blah, blah, blah…..] E-Discovery….terabytes….computer forensics…”
“Oh, Never. Mind,” she’d give up, shaking off her obvious annoyance—at herself, at me, I never understood.
The family conversation would go on around her, interjected here and there by her “What’s” until she’d give up, leave the table, and do the dishes. I don’t think I noticed any of this until now, in retrospect, after working on a Boston Bombing case.
The One Fund application was actually pretty straightforward. Filling it out, I figured, would be very unlike the work required to craft a preservation plan for firewall logs and ten databases in a data breach case. I figured I’d be in and out in half-an-hour. And yet, it was not until hours later when we finished the application. We spent hours talking, loudly, slowly, repeating phrases, reading lips, undergoing translations of English to English, organizing a labyrinth of medical records and, mostly, distilling a very emotional account into a sterile, one paragraph blurb on her objective, physical injury. For Gretchen, a human with a real problem larger than simply saying “hearing loss,” it took a while to uncoil the events of April 15th and how they changed her life, physically and emotionally.
Gretchen had already been diagnosed before the Marathon with hearing loss in both ears, the right side suffering from profound loss; the left, also functioning at a deficit, was considered her “good ear.” So, in moving through the thick Boylston crowd with her fifteen-year-old, she worked hard to focus on keeping her son close to her side.
The first bomb exploded, crashing the air. She turned her “good ear” toward the blast, unsure of what was going on. Then, the second bomb ripped through the screaming crowd and this is what did her in. Now both ears were damaged.
I wanted the One Fund deciders to know how hard it was to be left out of conversations with your own sons. To hear wind instead of words. Ringing instead of crisp birdsong. I wanted them to “see” this invisible injury. One that now, after the blasts, left Gretchen unable to differentiate peripheral noise, unable to hold conversations with multiple people, left her with increased tinnitus and multiple sounds running constant in her head: crickets, faucets, wind, ringing. Noises. Constant noises. Not distinct voices. And how voices too, they were all different. Even her husband’s. Even her own. I wanted them to understand that now, Gretchen could no longer enjoy any music, could not separate the different notes. I tried to imagine working, driving, cooking, running without the tinkling of the piano, the hypnotic waves of a cello, the thud-thud of motivating Hip-Hop, or the soul-soothing guitars of folk. I wanted everyone to understand how Gretchen could never escape it—because it was always there, absolutely there, yet invisible to everyone else.
But, given the triage nature of the One Fund application—necessary to distribute funds ASAP to those in serious need—we had work to do. In other words, we had to say how the sector of the hard drive was physically damaged, objectively prove it, and seriously distill, almost avoid, the frustrating, very real emotional side of how business stops when computers break. As I explained this to Gretchen, and her husband handed tissues for her tears, and as I put her jumble of medical records in chronological order and in the best objective light, I watched her chin quiver and her fists clench. I watched her retreat to her inner world.
I thought of my mom.
Gretchen was approved by the One Fund for Category D and received the pre-set distribution of funds. She is thankful for the donations. And certainly we all agree the focus of the Fund should continue to devote resources and charity to those most critically injured and those who suffered loss of life. As for hearing loss victims, this too is a lifetime cost. And a lifetime burden. There is no cure. And it’s not going away.
A few months ago, the Boston Bar Foundation’s Society of Fellows asked me to address how helping a Marathon victim impacted me. It impacted me professionally and personally. Professionally, I am sure I am just a pin in the hard drive, but I do have a pulse and I have a new knowledge on an invisible injury. Personally, I hope I’m a better daughter. How happy I truly am now to see my mother engaged and smiling, sitting with us at the table, wearing her hearing aids. I am better able to understand what she has gained.
Shannon Capone Kirk is a Chambers-ranked E-Discovery Counsel at Ropes & Gray and Professor at Suffolk Law. Shannon’s international practice manages electronic data in litigation.
The authors express their appreciation to the many others at Goodwin Procter who were part of the One Fund team, and in particular for the invaluable assistance of Stuart Cable, Mary-Kathleen O’Connell, and Alyssa Fitzgerald.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, Boston Mayor Menino and Massachusetts Governor Patrick proposed creating a charity to benefit the survivors and families of those killed in the attack. On April 16, Mayor Menino reached out to local businesses Hill Holliday and John Hancock to assist with the creation of the One Fund Boston. Later that day, before the fund was even incorporated and before Ken Feinberg was brought on as administrator, the One Fund received its first $1 million commitment from John Hancock.
As the One Fund’s attorneys, we at Goodwin Procter had to seek quick incorporation of the fund and apply on an expedited basis for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS. However, applications for 501(c)(3) status often take up to eighteen months to process, and in addition, obtaining the necessary approval was challenging, due to IRS limitations on the types of distributions that charitable organizations can make to individuals in the context of disaster relief.
Generally, to qualify for tax-exempt status, an organization must show that it will assist a large enough or sufficiently indefinite charitable class so that it is providing a public rather than a private benefit. In addition, in IRS Publication 3833, the IRS takes the position that an organization cannot distribute funds to individuals merely because they are victims of a disaster, but generally must determine that a recipient lacks adequate financial resources of his or her own. The IRS therefore had questions about the One Fund’s plans to make distributions without financial needs testing.
The One Fund team worked closely with the IRS to overcome these issues and to show that the One Fund instead met the criteria for a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization as an organization that lessens the burdens of government, focusing on the organization’s relationship with the City of Boston and the City’s role in approving distributions. “Lessening the burdens of government” is an alternative method of qualifying as a 501(c)(3) organization. As far as we know, this method has not been used before in the disaster relief context. This approach to the formation of a relief organization allowed the One Fund Boston to accomplish its immediate and ongoing goals for distributions.
On May 14, just one month after the bombings, the IRS granted the One Fund Boston 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. The One Fund’s attorneys were able to use procedures for expedited approval and effective dialogue with the IRS to obtain this unusually quick and favorable result.
The One Fund has been a huge success and an important contribution to Boston’s recovery. All of the $60 million in funds donated to the One Fund Boston through June 26, 2013 were distributed to those who were most affected by the bombings, in accordance with a protocol developed by Mr. Feinberg. In addition, the One Fund Boston will continue to provide support for those affected and has announced that it will make a second distribution.
Public response to the swift action taken by the One Fund Boston has been favorable, and Mayor Menino noted that in his 20 years as mayor of Boston, he had never seen the business community come together so quickly on behalf of the citizens of Boston.
While the One Fund Boston model will not work in all circumstances, it may be an alternative to more traditional charitable models when there is significant government involvement. In such cases, it provides an opportunity for the public and private sectors to work together to deliver expedited, direct benefits to those in need as a result of disasters.
Susan L. Abbott is a partner at Goodwin Procter LLP and Chair of the firm’s Tax-Exempt Organizations Group. She led the pro bono team that incorporated, obtained 501(c)(3) status for, and advised the One Fund Boston.
Lisa A.H. McChesney is an associate in the firm’s Trusts and Estate Planning Group and assisted with the One Fund Boston application for 501(c)(3) status.
by Robert A. Whitney*
*Please note that the opinions expressed in this Viewpoint are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the position of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance.
On Patriots’ Day, Monday, April 15, 2013, the 117th annual Boston Marathon began in much the same way as the previous 116 Boston Marathons had begun, with runners crowding the starting line in Hopkinton awaiting the gun, and thousands of spectators lining the race course to see the racers go by. At the finish line, crowds had gathered to await the winning runners and cheer on the thousands of non-professionals who completed the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.
I was one of those people, standing on the right side of Boylston Street facing the finish line, watching for a friend. As my friend ran past me toward the finish line, I cheered and then left the area, heading back to my office at the Division of Insurance. About 20 minutes later, at 2:49 pm, the first of two bombs exploded outside Marathon Sports on Boylston Street. A second blast came 13 seconds later, just before the finish line near Copley Square.
The explosions killed three spectators and injured over two hundred and fifty others. The area around the two explosions—nearly a mile long and three blocks across—was immediately closed off. The Copley Square area did not reopen until April 24, 2013, more than a week after the Boston Marathon bombings.
The Boston legal community immediately stepped up to help the victims and their families. For example, as noted in the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Bar Association (“BBA”) was among the first to provide assistance by recruiting volunteer attorneys. Within ten days of the bombings, some 125 attorneys, five law firms and law students had already signed up to help individuals and small businesses. The Massachusetts Bar Association (“MBA”) also reached out to its membership, asking them to provide free services to affected persons and property owners, including helping victims of the bombings with applications to the “One Fund Boston,” a compensation fund that raised more than $60 million for the victims and their families.
The MBA proposed that victims be permitted to submit personal statements about their injuries and the effect that the bombings have had on their lives, in addition to merely submitting just medical records. BBA volunteer attorneys also helped marathon bombing victims fill out One Fund Boston claims. In total, the volunteer attorneys helped 14 victims complete One Fund Boston claims, including making three home visits to meet with those who are unable to leave home because they were still recovering from physical injuries.
Many local businesses also faced an immediate, major issue after the bombing: whether the damage from the explosions themselves and from the resulting lost revenue, would be covered by their respective insurance policies. The issue turned in part on an important matter of insurance law, namely, whether the bombings at the Boston Marathon could be viewed as an “act of terror.” To much of the general public, there was little doubt that the Boston Marathon bombings were an “act of terror;” even President Barack Obama, in statement on April 16, 2013, said that, although the perpetrators were still unknown, the bombing was an “act of terror,” and that “[a]ny time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.”
But from an insurance perspective, the situation was less clear. After the terrorist attacks on “9/11” in 2001, the insurance industry began to write exclusions into business insurance policies, that would preclude coverage relating to business interruption and lost income resulting from “acts of terror.” Many of the insurance policies held by businesses affected by the Boston Marathon bombings contained these so-called “terrorism exclusions.” Of course, determining exactly what is considered to be a “terrorist act” for insurance exclusion purposes is not clear cut. If the Boston Marathon bombings were to be considered “acts of terror,” that potentially would trigger the exclusions contained in local businesses policies, then there might be no coverage available to those businesses for any physical damage and loss income resulting from the explosions.
The Boston legal community responded to these insurance-related issues by offering pro bono legal services to local, affected businesses to help them determine whether they could make insurance claims for losses including business interruption, property damage and relocation expenses, despite any “terrorism exclusions.” As reported in the Boston Globe, one priority for the BBA’s volunteer lawyers was to make sure that business owners were able to file their claims with their insurance carriers in a timely fashion, and to make the best arguments in favor of finding insurance coverage available for any damage.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the Massachusetts Division of Insurance (“Division”) issued a bulletin detailing appropriate procedures for insurers to use in reviewing claims made as a result of the bombings. The Division was concerned that all insurers “promptly investigate all claims for all lines of coverage including, without limitation, business interruption insurance, home insurance, property insurance and health insurance.” The Division also sought to make sure that any insurer’s investigation of any claimed loss was done strictly on a “claim-by-claim basis.”
In the weeks and months following the Boston Marathon bombings, insurers paid the vast majority of the insurance claims made with respect to damages from the explosions, and the Division is unaware of any claims for damages being denied by any carrier because of any “terrorism exclusion.” Insurers may have had difficulty determining exactly what constituted “terrorism” for purposes of excluding insurance coverage, particularly where the definition of “act of terror” might be different in each affected insurance policy, and where the burden would be on the insurer to affirmatively demonstrate the applicability of each policy’s exclusion.
The volunteer work of the MBA, BBA, law firms, individual attorneys and law students in the aftermath of the bombings enabled victims to make claims for compensation for their injuries that they otherwise may not have been able to make. Moreover, affected businesses were likely back up and running faster due to the assistance of the volunteers.
There can be no doubt that the immediate and strong pro bono efforts of these lawyers and law students during this terrible time made a bad situation much better for many individuals and businesses that suffered from the effects of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Robert A. Whitney is currently the Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, a position to which he was appointed in 2011. Previously in private practice for over 20 years, he has frequently written and spoken on insurance and reinsurance topics.