Lebanon’s Beirut Port Explosion Births Hundreds of Lawsuits

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Beirut Bar Association on Wednesday presented Lebanon’s public prosecutor with nearly 700 criminal complaints from victims of the Beirut port blast in August.

“We presented 679 complaints today, in the name of the families of those killed, wounded and affected,” Beirut Bar Association head Melhem Khalaf said, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA).

Wednesday’s filing was “the first wave of complaints to be filed of around 1,400 cases being compiled by the Bar Association,” according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

A stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse near the Beirut port exploded on August 4. The blast killed at least 220 people, injured thousands more, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. It also laid waste to entire blocks of Beirut near the port, damaging or destroying a great number of buildings.

Over a thousand people in Lebanon “have turned to the Beirut Bar Association to file complaints they hope will become lawsuits against the state, as Lebanese law does not allow for class action procedures,” AFP reported on September 22. “The Beirut Bar Association is offering its services pro bono as part of an accountability drive it launched after the blast, assigning a lawyer to each of the cases it is currently handling.”

The bar association enlisted 400 volunteer lawyers and 200 legal aides by late September to work on the cases. The association is “backed by more than 450 real-estate appraisers who helped assess the cost of damages suffered by the claimants.”

“So far, more than 82 percent of all cases brought to the Beirut Bar Association involve people whose complaint focuses on material losses as a result of the blast,” lawyer Ali Jaber told AFP at the time.

“Those who sustained injuries as well as material losses make up around seven percent of future claimants, while those whose complaint centered solely on injuries accounted for three and a half percent,” he said, adding that a little over one percent of claimants had lost a relative in the blast.

According to Jaber, the claimants are seeking first to establish responsibility for the blast through a verdict before any attempt at a second lawsuit for compensation from Beirut. Lebanon is currently suffering from its worst economic crisis since the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Beirut’s August 4 port explosion caused popular outrage against Lebanon’s government after Lebanese officials admitted that the ammonium nitrate that caused the blast had been negligently stored by the government for years near the port.

Lebanese officials have so far rejected an international probe into the incident, despite demands for an impartial investigation both domestically and abroad. Through a local investigation, Lebanon has arrested at least 25 suspects for their connection to the blast, including the chief of the Port of Beirut and its customs director.

Experts from France, Britain, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) contributed to Lebanon’s preliminary investigation. Lebanese Judge Fadi Sawwan, who is leading the investigation, “received the FBI report on Monday [October 12], adding that he is still waiting for similar reports from French and British explosives experts,” Lebanon’s NNA reported on October 13. NNA did not provide further details about the content of the FBI report.


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