Top NY court hears 1993 WTC bombing case again

AP News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2011 5:49 PM
Top NY court hears 1993 WTC bombing case again

The World Trade Center managers urged New York's top court Wednesday to find them immune from negligence claims for failing to deter the 1993 parking garage bombing that killed six people and injured about 1,000.

Attorney Richard Rothman, representing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs area airports and owns the trade center site, told the Court of Appeals that government immunity should apply to its security measures, which he said were reasonable.

"The Legislature said the Port Authority is public. The Port Authority is acting for a public purpose," Rothman said. "It is undisputed in this case the Port Authority was facing risks and trying to address risks that threatened its network."

Attorney Victor Kovner, representing a man who was injured and awarded nearly $600,000 in the damages phase of the case, said the issue was the agency's failure, despite awareness of terrorist threats, to take precautions including closing the garage to the public. "Here it was the omission to implement any of the recommendations for a period of eight years," he said.

Plaintiffs argued that most of the tenants were commercial, and the agency had the same responsibility as a commercial landlord and was not entitled to governmental immunity. The towers also housed offices for the governor and several state and federal agencies, Rothman said in June arguments.

A jury found the agency failed as landlord to maintain reasonably safe premises and was 68 percent at fault, blaming terrorists for the other 32 percent. A midlevel court upheld that ruling.

The Court of Appeals with only five judges was unable to reach the necessary four-judge consensus after June arguments. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Judge Robert Smith recused themselves without citing reasons. Lippman had been a justice on the Appellate Division court that ruled earlier. Smith is a former commercial attorney in Manhattan.

On Wednesday, two Appellate Division presiding justices, A. Gail Prudenti and Thomas Mercure, heard the arguments and will join in the ruling. The court typically issues decisions within a month.

About 200 claims in the case were filed with most privately settled. Rothman said four or five remain for personal injuries, plus one for business interruption by tenant Cantor Fitzgerald seeking hundreds of millions of dollars.

Many of the injured suffered smoke inhalation in the evacuation. Six terrorists were later convicted.

Hijackers destroyed the center's twin skyscrapers on Sept. 11, 2001. The agency is building one of the two skyscrapers under construction at the site now.