Family of American killed in Pakistan Marriott bombing can sue hotel in U.S.

05/02/2013 4:42 PM

05/03/2013 5:25 AM

The family of a man who was killed in an infamous terrorist attack on a Pakistan hotel can now go after the Marriott corporation in a U.S. court, under a new appellate ruling.

Greg and Eric DiFederico, of Columbia, S.C., along with their mother, Mary, and brother, Nicholas, who live in Virginia, blame Marriott for failing to protect hotel guests in Islamabad from the truck bomb that killed 56 and injured 280 in September 2008. Among the dead was retired Navy officer Albert DiFederico, a State Department contractor.

“We know a lot about what happened,” Miami-based attorney Andrew C. Hall said in an interview Thursday. “Now, it’s a matter of filling in the gaps.”

Represented by Hall and a Maryland attorney, Jonathan A. Azrael, the DiFederico family sued Marriott for negligence in federal court in Maryland in 2011. Marriott International Inc.’s headquarters are in Maryland and it is where, Hall said, the company oversees security planning for its 3,400-plus hotels and resorts in 68 different countries.

The Islamabad Marriott was a franchise hotel, operated by a Pakistani company.

A trial judge agreed with Marriott that the case should be handled in a Pakistan court. But in a 19-page decision Wednesday, the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted serious concerns with trying the case in that country.

“It would be a perversion of justice to force a widow and her children to place themselves in the same risk-laden situation that led to the death of a family member,” Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote, citing the “fear and emotional trauma involved in travel to Pakistan for a trial concerning such a politically charged event.”

Marriott had argued in legal filings that the company would face “overwhelming problems” in defending itself in Maryland, because of the need for witnesses in Pakistan. The company’s attorneys also challenged the lawsuit’s underlying claim that hotel security officials were negligent.

“For all we know, Mr. DiFederico may have indeed received notification of the event and elected to remain in his room, thinking it was the safest place to be,” Marriott’s attorneys stated in a December 2011 brief. “Or, perhaps, he was instructed to leave, delayed his departure from his room and while in route out of the hotel was killed when the bomb was detonated.”

The company’s vice president for global safety and security, U.S. special forces veteran Alan Orlob, told a Senate hearing in 2009 that the Islamabad hotel was operating at the highest “threat condition red” and that the company’s security measures “saved hundreds of lives.” A Marriott spokesperson could not be reached Thursday.

The DiFederico family, though, is far more concerned about its own individual case.

Greg and Eric DiFederico could not be reached Thursday.

Potentially, the appellate court ruling could affect other lawsuits filed in the 4th Circuit’s region, which includes North Carolina and South Carolina. In particular, the court’s conclusion that “fear and emotional trauma” are relevant when judging the convenience of a trial location may spread as precedent

Albert DiFederico served 25 years in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, retiring in 2004 as a commander. He subsequently became a contractor.

On Sept. 30, 2008, DiFederico was at the 290-room Islamabad Marriott. Shortly before 8 p.m., a truck containing about 1,300 pounds of explosives attempted to crash through a gate. The driver tried to detonate the explosives, succeeding only in starting a fire in the cab. About eight minutes later, with security personnel having failed to put the fire out, secondary explosions ripped through the truck and hotel.

Video of the attack can be seen on YouTube, and a fictionalized version is depicted in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount being sought, though Hall said that cases like it typically demand “seven-figure” amounts.

“The only way you get justice in a wrongful death case,” Hall said, “is through a substantial award.”

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