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County, town face suit in beheading of woman

Lawyers for the estate of Aasiya Zubair Hassan, the woman killed and beheaded in her cable television studio, have filed a notice of claim, indicating they intend to sue the Town of Orchard Park, Erie County and the Erie County Sheriff's Department for failing to prevent her death in February of last year.

Another wrongful death suit is under way against Hassan's husband and the Bridges TV network that the couple founded in 2004 to raise the profile of moderate American Muslims.

Lawyers for Zubair Hassan's estate indicated in the notice of claim that, because of "carelessness, negligence, recklessness and/or omissions" by police and government agencies, Zubair Hassan suffered "grave bodily injury" and death.

Muzzammil S. "Mo" Hassan was charged with his wife's death after leading police to her body in the Bridges TV studio in Orchard Park on Feb. 12, 2009.

Zubair Hassan and her children were the subject of numerous police reports and orders of protection, as well as investigations by Erie County's Child Protective Services. The authorities were contacted many times over the course of Zubair Hassan's marriage, though she declined to press charges and did not always cooperate with law enforcement.

"The Town of Orchard Park, the Erie County sheriff and County of Erie owed Aasiya Z. Hassan, a vulnerable person, a nondelegable duty to respond and protect her," according to the notice of claim.

In the wrongful death suit filed against Hassan and Bridges Network, lawyers for the wife's estate are suing Hassan for damages on the grounds of assault, imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress and her death.

Bridges is being sued on the grounds of failing to provide a safe work place and appropriate security.

The Hogan Willig law firm, which was handling Zubair Hassan's divorce case, initiated the wrongful death claims, seeking monetary damages against the municipalities for medical expenses, lost wages, financial support for her children, pain and suffering and other losses.

Hogan Willig is no longer involved in any of the cases, though.

The wrongful death suit against Hassan and Bridges is now being litigated by Buffalo lawyer Terrence M. Connors. He said the criminal murder case complicates the timeline for the wrongful death suit, but added that the case is progressing.

In a related matter, lawyers on all sides have agreed to allow Hassan to access his retirement accounts to cover the cost of his defense.

Much of the delay in his murder trial has involved legal wrangling over how much money should be released to Hassan to pay for his defense and how much should be left for his wife's estate and the couple's two young children.

Lawyers moved to have all of Muzzammil Hassan's assets frozen one week after his wife was found dead based on the belief that Hassan would try to hide assets that should be left to Zubair Hassan's estate and their children.

Zubair Hassan had virtually no personal savings, according to a sworn statement she made just prior to her death. She spent what little she did have to retain a divorce lawyer.

Among Zubair Hassan's concerns before she died was a change apparently made to one of her life insurance policies while she was out of the country, according to John Licata, a lawyer with Hogan Willig who initially filed court papers on behalf of Zubair Hassan's estate.

The change made her husband a 40 percent beneficiary upon her death and added his two children from a prior marriage as additional beneficiaries, he said. Previously, only her two children were beneficiaries.

"Aasiya denied ever making that change," Licata said. "Aasiya told me she was in Pakistan on that date and provided us her travel itinerary."

In an agreement reached last month with the lawyers representing the wife's estate, Hassan can access money from his several retirement accounts and a savings account to cover the cost of his lawyers and any taxes he owes for 2008 and 2009.

In exchange, he agrees to give up his ownership and financial interest in Bridges TV and leave the couple's Orchard Park home to the estate of his wife. He also gives up any claim to the family's three cars, all jewelry and an additional $5,000 located in his safe deposit boxes.

Finally, he gives up any say in the custody and distribution of assets to his children.

In court, Hassan said he was satisfied with the arrangement.

"I really want to thank you very much," he said, "as well as all of the attorneys who have really worked on it, to make sure that the needs of my children have been taken care of. I mean, you've pretty much saved four lives."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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