The Long Recovery
Ron Karp is still fighting for the victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya
Published in 2016 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine
on December 7, 2015
Updated on December 17, 2015
Tragedy often strikes in a second, but its impact can last for years.
When the U.S. Embassy in Kenya was bombed on August 7, 1998, the blast killed 12 Americans and injured almost 4,000 other people. Linked to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the incident marked one of the first times the names Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were heard by the American public. Four years later, Ron Karp began fighting on behalf of eight of the victims and their families as he sought compensation from Iran and the Republic of Sudan—both governments accused of providing support to the bombers.
He’s still fighting that battle.
“I can honestly tell you that at the time I took [the case], I had no idea it was going to take 13 years,” says Karp. “But I got to meet the people, and they were such lovely people and they were so brave. And I thought that if there’s some way I could help these people, I’m going to give it a shot.”
Among his clients is a woman who was blinded by shattered glass from the blast. When she was raising her grandchild, who’s now a teenager, she attached bells to the child’s feet to keep track of her. “Another client had his chin blown off, and they found his chin in the debris,” adds Karp. “They made some miraculous attempts to reattach it.”
A managing partner and personal injury lawyer at Karp, Wigodsky, Norwind & Gold, Karp’s most memorable cases also include successfully suing the District of Columbia General Hospital for being unable to diagnose a woman’s brain injury because it didn’t have a CT scan machine, and representing a group of women who were sexually harassed at a Fortune 500 company.
He’s taken on other terrorism-related cases, too, representing the parents of Marla Bennett, a 22-year-old American woman who died in Israel in the 2002 Hebrew University bombing. “She was a student there on a summer visa,” Karp says. “We got a $12 million verdict in that case, which we’re also trying to collect.”
Karp and co-counsel Thomas Fay began working with American survivors of the U.S. Embassy bombing in 2002. In 2014, the victims received a verdict from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for $487 million under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. They have yet to see a penny.
“After we got this huge verdict, the Sudan has now hired a new blue-chip law firm, White & Case, to come in and try to set aside the whole verdict,” says Karp, who doesn’t believe Sudan has a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals. “I can’t imagine [the judge] would let all of our clients, and all the efforts of 13 years, start all over again.”
Karp is hopeful they’ll collect the money within the next year or two. However, in Karp’s experience, collecting judgments and getting through the courts has been difficult with terrorism-related cases. “Most of the cases I work on have insurance, and one of the things I’ve learned is we tend to get angry at insurance companies,” he says. “But boy, when there’s no insurance company involved, it’s a real nightmare.”
Last summer, President Barack Obama visited Memorial Park in Nairobi, Kenya, and laid a wreath where the names of the bombing victims are carved. The visit was met with protests from Kenyans who have also yet to receive any compensation for their injuries and lost loved ones from the bombing.
“They just happened to be going to work one day, and this horrible thing took place,” says Karp. “And they’ve had to live with it for years. We have great hopes that 2016 is going to be the year that these people finally get some compensation.”