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Federal appeals court allows 9/11 suit against New York, New Jersey port authority

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Tuesday permitted [order, PDF] a lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) [official website] arising out of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 [JURIST news archive] to proceed. An electrical substation at the base of 7 World Trade Center (7WTC) was destroyed when the building collapsed during the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack. The substation was operated by Con Edison [corporate website], a company that leased property from the Port Authority. Con Edison brought the action against PANYNJ for negligence in construction and design and breach of contract in 2002, arguing that the diesel fuel tanks PANYNJ had improperly allowed its tenants to use accelerated the building's collapse [Reuters report]. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] granted summary judgment to PANYNJ, and Con Edison appealed. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision, indicating Con Edison's negligence claim was proper because it arose out of the Port Authority's "independent duty, as owner of the leased premises, to exercise reasonable care to avoid damage to persons or property thereon." The appeals court did, however, agree with the lower court's ruling that the lease agreement between the two companies provided only for no-fault reimbursement related to damage caused by active construction or maintenance of the building. The appeals court remanded the negligence claim for further consistent proceedings.

PANYNJ is also battling a lawsuit related to a separate terror attack. In June, PANYNJ argued in an appeal [case summary, PDF; JURIST report] before the New York Court of Appeals [official website] that they were not liable for negligence in the 1993 WTC attacks [FBI backgrounger; BBC backgrounder]. The Port Authority seeks to overturn the 2008 decision [text] that upheld a 2005 jury verdict [JURIST report] apportioning 68 percent of the fault to the Port Authority and 32 percent to the terrorists who committed the attack. The 1993 bombing of the WTC by Islamic radicals killed six and injured 1,000 through a car bomb placed in the basement parking garage. Five men were captured and sentenced to life in prison for the attack. After the bombing, 648 plaintiffs filed 174 negligence actions against the Port Authority for "alleged breach of its proprietary duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition." Negligence was assessed against the Port Authority after documents revealed that the WTC garage had been ignoring safety fears since 1984. The Port Authority police superintendent, at the time, stated the parking areas "[we]re accessible to the public and are highly susceptible to car bombings."

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