The U.S. government may be liable for tens of millions of dollars in negligence claims over its assertion that a federal scientist used anthrax from a government laboratory to kill five people, injure 17 and terrorize the country, USA Today reports. At issue is whether the government knew or should have known that scientist Bruce Ivins, whom the Justice Department says carried out the attacks alone, was potentially dangerous, said law Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. Ivins’ lawyers dispute the government’s assertions.
One lawsuit alleges that the government failed to monitor, store and secure the anthrax properly at its Fort Detrick, Md., facility. The suit, seeking $50 million, was filed in 2003 on behalf of the family of Robert Stevens, a photo editor who died after anthrax was mailed to his company’s headquarters. A Ft. Detrick worker “told me they had better security at a 7-Eleven than they did at the … laboratory where they had the most dangerous substances known to mankind,” said Stevens family attorney Richard Schuler. Said Former Justice Department lawyer Richard Silber: “This guy was clearly a nut case, and he wasn’t a secret nut case. And yet he was allowed to operate with unfettered access to these very lethal pathogens.”