Medical Tuesday Blog

12. Allan Gerson, June 19, 1945-Dec 1, 2019, of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease Allan Gerson Made Libya Pay for Pan Am 103 Bombing By James R. Hagerty | WSJ

Jan 1

Written by: Del Meyer
01/01/2020 11:09 PM 

Creative lawyer helped win $2.7 billion in damages, in what started out as a quixotic quest

After the terrorist bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, lawyers for some of the 270 people killed did the obvious: They sued Pan Am for alleged negligence in allowing the bomb to be smuggled onboard.

Allan Gerson, an expert in international law who died Sunday of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease at age 74, had another idea. In a New York Times op-ed article in July 1992, Dr. Gerson proposed that the Libyan government, suspected of involvement in the attack, should pay damages to relatives of the victims. The idea seemed preposterous. How was Libya, which denied involvement, to be forced to pay?

Yet Dr. Gerson and other lawyers in 2003 won an agreement requiring Libya to pay $2.7 billion, or $10 million per victim. Dr. Gerson, whose hobbies included photography and designing jewelry, credited his offbeat approach to the law. “I look for solutions that lie outside the ordinary way of doing things,” he once said.

Bruce Smith, a former Pan Am pilot whose wife, Ingrid, died on Pan Am 103, saw Dr. Gerson’s op-ed and hired him to pursue a case against Libya. Dr. Gerson’s initial hope was that the United Nations Security Council could create a commission to seize Libyan assets and use them to compensate victims of the bombing. He couldn’t persuade the U.S. government to pursue that approach.

Dr. Gerson then filed a U.S. federal court suit against Libya, but that failed after Libya, as expected, invoked the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects governments from lawsuits.

So Dr. Gerson, working with another lawyer, Mark Zaid, pushed the idea of an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to permit lawsuits in certain cases against governments deemed to be sponsoring terrorism. The amendment was enacted in 1996. That made the lawsuit credible, and lawyers for other victims joined Dr. Gerson in his case against Libya. The Libyan government, eager to re-establish normal relations with the U.S. and other nations, finally agreed to a settlement. . .

Read the entire obituary in the WSJ at

James R. (Bob) Hagerty, who is based in Pittsburgh, writes obituaries for The Wall Street Journal. Over the past 30 years, he also has worked as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong, London, Brussels, Paris, Atlanta and New York. He holds a B.A. degree in economics from the University of North Dakota. He served as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s Asian edition (1994-98) and London bureau chief of The WSJ (2000-03).

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Categories: In Memoriam

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