THE AMERICAN lawyer who orchestrated the £1.85 billion settlement for the relatives of the Lockerbie bombing has told The Scotsman that his huge contingency fee for handling the historic case is "value for money".
Jim Kreindler, a leading New York aviation lawyer, revealed last night that his firm’s personal share of the compensation settlement with Libya, which could ultimately exceed $200 million, was modest in comparison with what the families could have been forced to pay out in legal fees.
Speaking yesterday, the 44-year-old lawyer said the initial contingency fee his Park Avenue firm will receive from the 128 families they represent - believed to be around $1 million per case - was relatively modest considering the potential pitfalls the firm faced.
He said: "When I first took the Lockerbie case on everybody thought I was crazy and there was no way the Libyans would ever settle. This was a high risk case for us from day one and years of hard work and effort could’ve gained us absolutely nothing. In the end, we dedicated seven years to securing this settlement, and the settlement we have won is fantastic for the families involved and for our firm. It is a huge success.
"In 1996 the notion of forcing Libya’s hand on anything was almost laughable and through skilled negotiation we have achieved something that two governments working together could never achieve.
"Over the past seven years we have had a dedicated team working tirelessly on this and we deserve the contingency fee we have worked so hard for, and I think we have provided the relatives with value for money. Some legal firms charge $500 an hour and a lot more money could’ve been made out of this. I’d say we are being fairly compensated for our efforts and in the context of what we have achieved I think it is also fair to say that a lot less money has been wasted than would’ve been the case if government bureaucrats were involved."
The provisional compensation deal over the disaster was struck in Paris four months ago after representatives from the Libyan government offered a consortium of US lawyers a 1.85 billion compensation package for the 270 families affected by the tragedy on Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988.
The agreement, which could ultimately work out at about 6.3 million per family, will compensate the immediate relatives and dependants of all 259 passengers and crew of the aircraft, and 11 people on the ground who died when the plane was blown up over Lockerbie.
Lawyers for Colonel Gaddafi’s government, however, have set conditions on the offer and around 3 million of the total going to each family will be held back unless the US removes Libya from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
The Scotsman has learned that two thirds of the families involved in the battle for compensation will receive the first instalment of the money before Christmas with the final third receiving their money over the New Year period.
Jim Kreindler recently won a landmark case securing $200,000 for "emotional distress" suffered by thirteen passengers buffeted by turbulence for 28 seconds during an American airlines flight from LA to New York.
The jury in the case concluded that the airline was responsible for the psychological impact and awarded a total of $2 million to the passengers involved in the case with the largest awards going to the children on board.
The damages were the highest ever awarded by a jury for emotional rather than physical injuries caused by airline turbulence.
Most of the Britons affected by the Lockerbie disaster are represented by Manhattan legal firm Speizer Crowse who are understood to have the relatives of 30 UK victims signed up to contingency deals securing lawyers between 28 and 35 per cent of any individual settlements.
Speizer Crowse, one of the most highly regarded legal firms in the US, currently represents 60 families seeking compensation.
Frank Greneda, of Speizer Crowse, recently said the commission earned by the lawyers, although considerable, was down to a tremendous amount of work.
He said: "There has been a lot of talk about amounts but the specific contingency arrangements are confidential and subject to individual agreements between the lawyers and the families. I think the controversy over the amounts the lawyers will receive is really a much ado about nothing. In the US we have always worked around a contingency fee system and the system works."
Mr Greneda added: "Sure the rewards in the US are more substantial than anywhere else in the world but nobody has questioned the fee whilst the work has been going on, it is only now as we approach a resolution when the criticism comes your way.
"I don’t expect any real flak as people will be grateful for the work that has been put in to achieve this deal. From day one there have been a lot of lawyers involved in this and a great deal has been achieved. I don’t think anyone would have thought a resolution would be brought to the issue of a compensation package from the Libyans."