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Appeals court in Va. revives suit against Marriott

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Entertainment,Travel

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a Virginia family's lawsuit accusing Marriott International of failing to adequately protect guests from a suicide bomb attack that killed more than 50 people at a Pakistan hotel.

Among the victims of the Sept. 20, 2008, attack at the Marriot Islamabad Hotel was Albert DiFederico of Chantilly, Va., a former naval commander who was working as a civilian contractor for the State Department. His wife, Mary, and three sons filed the wrongful death lawsuit in Maryland, where Marriott is based.

U.S. District Judge Roger Titus dismissed the lawsuit last year, ruling that it should have been filed in Pakistan. Titus said it would be burdensome to bring Pakistani witnesses to the United States and provide them expensive translation services. He said the family's fears of traveling to Pakistan for a trial were insufficient to overcome those obstacles.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously disagreed.

"We conclude that it would be a perversion of justice to force a widow and her children to place themselves in the same risk-laden situation that led to the death of a family member," Judge Roger Gregory wrote. "The DiFedericos are inconvenienced by the fear, emotional trauma, and associated logistical complexity that would afflict them if this case were dismissed and decided in Pakistan."

The family's attorney, Andrew C. Hall of Miami, said he was pleased with the ruling and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury in Maryland.

"All we're asking for is that fair day in court," he said, adding that the family would not have gone to Pakistan.

"Absolutely out of the question," he said.

Marriott's attorney, Paul K. Leary Jr. of Philadelphia, did not immediately return a voice mail message.

The attack at the hotel began when a dump truck loaded with more than 1,000 pounds of mortar bombs and shrapnel tried to ram through a gate. The explosives sparked an initial fire in the cab, but an explosion seven minutes later in the rear of the truck proved deadly and the hotel was destroyed by fire.

Lawyers for DiFederico's family claim hotel employees failed to take action during that seven-minute window, saying they neglected to evacuate guests and warn them that their lives were endangered. They say Marriott should have known that the hotel could be a terrorist target by virtue of its location and because it had been targeted before.

Marriott has argued that the hotel was owned and operated by a Pakistani franchisee that had its own security and was solely responsible for safeguarding the hotel.

But the appeals court said the DiFedericos chose to sue Marriott, not the franchisee, and that most of the witnesses and evidence are located in the U.S.

"Whatever theory they pursue requires they hold Marriott, an American-based company, accountable for the events that took place in a franchise hotel in Pakistan," Gregory wrote. "At minimum, a major part of the DiFedericos' theory hinges on Marriott's oversight of security plans and procedures. This unmistakably shifts the center of the case towards the United States."

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Follow Larry O'Dell on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LarryOatAP

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