9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN08 Disaster and Social Crisis

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Disaster Management at Large: From Humanitarian Interventions to First Responders Building AA, AA.226

Survivors' and Relatives' Perceptions of Justice in Post-Disaster Trials


Disasters are usually accompanied by a stage of allocating blaming and an accountability process. This is especially the case in the so-called man-made and technological disasters, but is also present in natural disasters, such as earthquakes. The process of accountability is present in ?natural? disasters since it is humans who organize preparedness, humans who determine how land is used and humans who build and maintain structures. Furthermore, and increasingly, the process of accountability leads the survivors and/or their relatives to undertake litigation in order to obtain justice, restitution, psychological closure, and material compensation for damages to their health, their property and their level of living.

Although disaster litigation has not been systematically scrutinized by disaster sociologists, the available literature (see Murphy & Keating,1995; Marshall, Picou & Schlichtmann, 2004; Picou, Marshall & Gill, 2004; Ott, 2007; Effron, 2008) suggests that traditional litigation procedures (e.g. adversary method) may not be the best strategy for obtaining justice for victims, survivors and their relatives, in view of the fact that trials usually require protracted periods of time and may compound the traumatic impacts of disaster.

Based on a questionnaire survey of survivors and/or their relatives who used various strategies for obtaining justice, restitution and compensation (e.g. litigation, direct settlements etc), following three types of disaster (1999 Athens earthquake, 2000 Express Samina shipwreck and the 17N terrorist attacks), the author observed comparatively higher levels of satisfaction with the court outcomes among the plaintiffs/victims of terrorism, lower levels among he plaintiffs/victims of the shipwreck and the lowest levels of satisfaction among the plaintiffs/victims of the 1999 earthquake.

The author uses the literature, the responses of survivors/plaintiffs to the open-ended questions, the court proceedings and the plaintiffs?/victims? testimony to interpret the quantitative results and also to suggest improvements and/or alternatives to the litigation process in order to promote the sense of justice, restitution and closure among the survivors and their relatives.