In re Nancy Walsh
GLAD applied for and won compensation from the federal September 11 Victim Compensation Fund on behalf of Nancy Walsh, a lesbian whose partner of 13 years was one of the passengers on Flight 11 who died on September 11. Nancy came up against barriers that so often face same-sex partners in times of crisis. For example, her partner, Carol Flyzik, did not have a will, thus making Carol’s biological family the presumptive recipients of any compensation. Nor did Nancy have an automatic right to administer Carol’s estate or continue to live in the home that she and Carol shared.
GLAD helped Nancy to secure her partner’s death certificate so that she was able to proceed with matters relating to the probate of the estate, and assisted her in applying for compensation from the federal Fund. Nancy’s hearing was held on January 26. After considering the facts, the Special Master awarded a favorable monetary ruling for Nancy, compensating her for losses she incurred as a result of this tragedy.
Nancy’s case tragically underscores the vulnerability of same-sex relationships, and reminds us of the comprehensive protections that marriage provides for families.
As for most of us, September 11 began as a routine day for Carol Flyzik and Nancy Walsh of Plaistow, NH. Carol was flying to Los Angeles on business and woke Nancy early to say goodbye. “I’ll call you when I get there” she said. But Carol was on American Airlines flight 11. When it crashed into the World Trade Center, Nancy’s life fell apart. She had lost the love of her life, her partner of 13 years. But because they were not legally married, she was also at risk of losing the home they shared and the car they drove. The airline would not even confirm that Carol was on the flight, since Nancy was not a “family” member.
GLAD could do nothing for Nancy’s profound grief at losing her partner. But we did everything possible to ensure that Nancy was recognized as the surviving spouse and able to make decisions about her estate and receive compensation from the “September 11 Victim Compensation Fund”.
GLAD handled Nancy’s application to the Victim Compensation Fund created by the federal government to assist those injured and the families of those killed in the attacks. Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the fund, publicly stated his willingness to compensate surviving partners, but only when the next of kin approve.
But life is rarely that simple. Like most people, gay and non-gay, Carol Flyzik did not have a will. That made Carol’s biological family the presumptive recipients of any compensation. Carol’s family was supportive of their relationship while Carol was alive, but then took the position that they were entitled to survivor’s compensation “because you [Nancy and Carol] weren’t married.”
This is just the kind of Catch-22 that GLAD has struggled to prevent. It is in times of crisis and tragedy that people are reminded of the comprehensive protections that marriage provides for families. Without those protections, families formed by same-sex couples are left out in the cold. In this case, they suffer double tragedies.
GLAD led a team of lawyers to fight for Nancy’s rights, including Stuart Hamilton at Hill & Barlow in Boston and Beth MacDonald at Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella in Exeter, NH.
GLAD believes that while there remains, and will remain, a great sense of loss and vulnerability in the country in the wake of September 11th, there is also a renewed commitment to fairness and unity. GLAD successfully fought for Nancy’s rights as a spouse under the Compensation Fund.