Federal judge grants summary judgment against 9/11 negligence claim

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Wednesday granted [opinion, PDF] a motion by several Airlines for summary judgment in a negligence claim stemming form the 9/11 terrorist attack [JURIST backgrounder] negligence claim. Lessee of 7 World Trade Center (Tower 7), which collapsed from the flaming debris resulting out of the crash of Flight 11 into the 1 World Trade Center, sued several defendants including United Airlines and American Airlines arguing that they were responsible for the collapse of Tower 7. The plaintiff in this case claimed that "United had a legal duty and a clear chance to prevent the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 when Atta and his accomplice passed through the Portland security checkpoint for which United has shared responsibility." However, District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, citing Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., held that United did not owe duty of care to the plaintiff because:

It was not within United's range of apprehension that terrorists would slip through the PWM security screening checkpoint, fly to Logan, proceed through another air carrier's security screening and board that air carrier's flight, hijack the flight and crash it into I World Trade Center, let alone that 1 World Trade Center would therefore collapse and cause Tower 7 to collapse.
The Lessee stated that he will continue to pursue claims [Reuters report] against United concerning Flight 175, which crashed into 2 World Trade Center.

Wednesday's ruling deviated significantly from a previous ruling by Hellerstein. In September, he ruled that American Airlines and United Continental Holdings must stand trial to defend [JURIST report] against a claim by World Trade Center Properties (WTCP), the owners of the World Trade Center towers, who claim that the negligence of the airlines allowed the hijackers aboard the planes which eventually destroyed the towers on 9/11. In so holding, he rejected the defendants' claim that the airlines should not be required to go to trial as WTCP already recovered from insurance companies. In 2007 a $4.09 billion settlement was reached [JURIST report] between insurance companies and WTCP. WTCP was seeking damages from the airlines in the range of $8.4 billion, which they estimate would be the cost of replacing the two towers. The judge in that case has limited to their earnings to the "lesser of fair market value or replacement cost" of the towers which he has put at $2.805 billion—the price WTCO agreed to pay the for the lease for the towers two months prior to the 9/11 attack.

 

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