Hirshfeld v. Islamic Republic of Iran

CASE SUMMARY

Estate of Hirshfeld v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Civil Action No. 15-1082 CKK (D.D.C. 2018)

  • The man let the box fall while holding its contents, including a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, two pistols, and as many as 500 to 600 rounds of ammunition.
  • The eight years between the terror attack and the lawsuit could not be entirely lost to grief; during this time, Dr. Engelberg and his organization relentlessly tracked down and pursued leads in the intelligence community, gathering what evidence could be found to prove Hamas perpetrated the attack, in turn linking Iran to the deaths carried out by Hamas.
  • Witness testimony revealed Yonadav was alive but wounded when they last encountered him, leading to the finding that he suffered before he died. 

At the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, three students were chatting in the courtyard after classes, waiting for the Rosh Chodesh Adar party to begin. Customarily, the month of Adar was one filled with rejoicing, as the celebration for Purim (a traditional celebration of Esther saving the Jews from Haman’s plot to massacre them) was right around the corner.

A man holding a large box for a television set advanced, stopping 2-3 feet away from the three boys. The man let the box fall while holding its contents, including a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, two pistols, and as many as 500 to 600 rounds of ammunition. He began to shoot in the direction of the three boys who scrambled inside the yeshiva, trying to escape. Yonadav Hirshfeld was running behind Mr. Kofman, and Mr. Kofman felt Yonadav’s blood spraying onto his arm. Yonadav came to a stop on the stairs, alive but unable to run anymore. Those that ran past him, in mortal fear for their own lives, noted he was alive but could not stop to help.
Twenty minutes later, the man who had been holding the box was shot by a fellow student from the roof and an officer in the Israel Defense Force in quick succession, resulting in his death. By the time it was safe to return to the area with the stairs, Yonadav was dead too. It was March 6, 2008, when Yonadav and seven others died and eleven others were wounded in a terrorist attack carried out by a man affiliated with Hamas, a terrorist organization.

In 2015, the estate, through its administrator, Dr. Engelberg, along with immediate family members of the deceased, filed suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in the District of Columbia, seeking to hold the defendant, the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for providing material support to Hamas.

While Iran was a supporter of Islamic terrorist organizations generally, their aid to Hamas significantly increased after the Palestine Liberation Organization reached an agreement with Israel in 1993. As time went by, this support increased, and it was no secret. In 2007 and 2008, when the attack occurred, there were publicized meetings between the leaders of Hamas and Iran, who provided weaponry, munitions, training, in-kind services, ideological support, and millions of dollars in financial support to the various wings of Hamas.

Although there was ample evidence of Iran’s support, the evidence directly linking Hamas to the attack was less available. The eight years between the terror attack and the lawsuit could not be entirely lost to grief; during this time, Dr. Engelberg and his organization relentlessly tracked down and pursued leads in the intelligence community, gathering what evidence could be found to prove Hamas perpetrated the attack, in turn linking Iran to the deaths carried out by Hamas. Although Hamas had publicly taken credit for the attack, the word of a terrorist organization is not sufficient proof in court to secure any type of compensation for the family.
The court found the evidence presented sufficiently demonstrated Iran had a policy of providing funding and material support to Hamas, particularly at the time of the attack.

State law governs whether an estate can recover damages for injuries sustained during the deceased’s lifetime. As the Estate of Yonadav Hirshfeld was admitted to probate in New York, with Letters of Administration appointing Dr. Engelberg as fiduciary issued by the Surrogate’s Court in New York, Dr. Engelberg asserted a cause of action against Iran for wrongful death.

Survival damages are based on the pain and suffering the deceased was forced to endure. Witness testimony revealed Yonadav was alive but wounded when they last encountered him, leading to the finding that he suffered before he died, making survival damages in the sum of $1,000,000 appropriate..

Solatium damages stem from “the mental anguish, bereavement, and grief that those with a close personal relationship to a decedent experience as the result of the decedent’s death, as well as the harm caused by the loss of the decedent’s society and comfort.” Belkin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 667 F.Supp.2d 8 (D.D.C. 2009). These claims are considered the same as those for emotional distress. Yonadav’s parents were each awarded $5,000,000 in solatium damages, and each of Yonadav’s 12 siblings were awarded $2,500,000 in solatium damages.

Economic damages may as well be awarded under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, with the amount based upon the unrealisable potential of the deceased. Here, it was shown that Yonadav was a bright and capable young man, and the testimony of his father that “he would have grown up to be a Torah leader, a rabbi, someone who would have taught many, many others” was found to be accurate and credible. Accordingly, the Estate of Yonadav Hirshfeld was awarded $950,000 in economic damages.

The court acknowledged that the legal proceedings could not make these family members whole again or even ease their pain.

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