The New York Court of Appeals, the highest Court in New York State, ruled on September 22, 2011 that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was not liable for the severe injuries and six fatalities caused in the first terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26, 2003. In the original attack, a car bomb was driven into an underground parking garage and exploded, injuring 1,000 and killing 6.
The theory of the plaintiffs was that the Port Authority had been given numerous warnings from security consultants that the underground garage was a likely and a vulnerable target for a terrorist attack. Under New York State Law, in order to prevail in a personal injury case, a plaintiff must be able to prove that a defendant either knew or should have known that an accident was likely to occur (the concept of legal “notice”) and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the accident or incident. Notice can be either “actual”, which means through a writing, an e-mail, telephone call or in person conversation, or “constructive”, which means that the defendant should have known based upon the circumstances that the accident was likely to occur and failed to take preventive steps.
In a very closely divided decision, (4-3), the Court ruled that the Port Authority was entitled to what is known as “governmental immunity”, in which governmental bodies, such as the Port Authority, are shielded from certain types of liability for discretionary or ministerial acts that they take. The Court determined that the Port Authority should not be treated in the same manner as a private landlord, who likely would have been held responsible on similar facts. The Court of Appeals focused on the fact that the Port Authority, although made aware of the potential risk of a car bomb in the garage, in its discretion, focused its attention and resources on other areas which it believed warranted enhanced security, including the public concourse and lobbies of the two towers.
The majority decision was written by Judge Theodore T. Jones, Jr., who stated: “Governmental entities cannot be expected to be absolutely infallible guarantors of public safety.” Jones noted that security experts found that the parking garage was a much less significant risk than the concourse and plaza area.
There were 600 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including many victims employed by Cantor Fitzgerald, the investment firm that was decimated in the September 11, 2001 attacks 8 ½ years later. The February 26, 1993 attack involved two men driving a Ryder truck with several bombs inside into the underground garage, causing the massive explosion.
Many of the lawsuits were settled, but there are some that are still pending. The case was originally heard in 2005, with a Manhattan jury determining that the Port Authority was 68% responsible for the attack, and the terrorists were 32% to blame. The lower level appellate Court in New York, called the Appellate Division, affirmed the lower Court decision in 2008. In the subsequent trial on injuries and damages, after fault was assessed as described above, one victim was awarded $824,100. It was this decision which was appealed to the Court of Appeals and reversed on September 22, 2011.
In the dissent, Judge Ciparick wrote that the Port Authority acted as a landlord, even though it is a governmental entity, and “should be held responsible for not taking basic security measures that would be expected of any private landlord of a large commercial building.”
Since the Court of Appeals is New York’s highest Court, this does not leave recourse for the plaintiffs to appeal the reversal of the $824,000 award.
If you or a family member are seriously injured in a construction accident, car crash, other type of accident, or are the victim of medical malpractice, contact the Westchester County Personal Injury Lawyers online or toll free at 888-761-7633 for a free initial consultation to discuss your case in detail with an experienced trial lawyer who will battle the insurance companies and defendants every step of the way to maximize compensation for your physical, financial and emotional injuries.