Federal judge in Md. dismisses suit over hotel bombing

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Greenbelt has dismissed a lawsuit that accused Marriott International of a slow response to a suicide bomb attack that killed more than 50 people at a Pakistan hotel.

The lawsuit was brought last June by the family of Albert DiFederico, who was among the victims of a Sept. 20, 2008 terrorist attack at a Marriott hotel in Islamabad. The Virginia man was in Pakistan at the time as a civilian contractor for the State Department. The wrongful death claim alleged that Marriott was negligent in defending the Islamabad hotel against terrorist attacks and in responding to the bombing.

Judge Roger Titus dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying Pakistan was the appropriate country for the case to be heard. The judge said the case would have required the testimony of Pakistani citizens, many of whom do not speak English and would have required expensive translation services, and he lacks the authority force them to appear as witnesses in Maryland.

“It would be burdensome to have members of a jury hear evidence regarding a terrorist attack that has little to do with this forum other than the fact that Marriott’s headquarters is in Maryland,” Titus wrote in dismissing the case from U.S. District Court.

Marriott is based in Bethesda. DiFederico’s wife, Mary, whom the lawsuit lists as living in Chantilly, Va., and their three sons are the plaintiffs.

Andrew B. Hall, a lawyer for the DiFederico family, said he planned to appeal the judge’s decision.

“We think that it is unacceptable to take an American who has lost his life in a terrorist bombing and require his family to go back to that same location,” Hall said Monday.

An email to a Marriott spokesman was not immediately returned.

The attack began when a dump truck filled with mortar bombs and shrapnel entered the driveway of the hotel. The explosives malfunctioned, but a second explosion seven minutes later in the rear of the truck proved deadly, igniting a fire that destroyed the hotel and killed more than 50 people, including DiFederico.

Lawyers for DiFederico’s family argued that hotel employees failed to take action during that seven-minute window, saying they didn’t properly warn guests their lives were endangered. The lawyers say Marriott should have known that the hotel could be a terrorist target by virtue of its location.

Marriott had argued that the Islamabad hotel was owned and operated by a franchisee and that Marriott was not in control of the security procedures. That franchisee had its own security company, and was solely responsible for safeguarding the hotel, Marriott said.

Hall said he would not personally travel to Pakistan to pursue the case and didn’t think his client should have to, either.

“I cannot recommend that you go into harm’s way in order to basically get access to a Pakistani courtroom,” Hall said.