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World Trade Center owner - airlines responsible for damages

The man who held the lease on the World Trade Center in Manhattan wants United Airlines and American Airlines to pay him for loss of property and business as a result of the September 11 attacks. In what would be a unique premises liability case, a jury may actually get to decide if the airlines are responsible for the damage to the buildings.

A federal judge has denied the airlines' request to dismiss the civil lawsuit and now it appears the case may have to be tried. Leaseholder Larry Silverstein is demanding $8.4 billion in damages but the judge handling the case has limited the amount to $2.8 billion, the amount Silverstein paid for the leases. Silverstein says American and United are to blame for destruction of the two towers and fire damage to the other buildings in the World Trade Center complex because they didn't do enough to stop the hijackers who crashed the planes into the towers. He is also suing Boeing, the company that built the planes and the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan Airport. Before 9/11, passenger screening and airport security was handled by private contractors. Silverstein's lawyers have asked that a trial be scheduled.

The airlines have an estimated $10 billion in liability insurance coverage. Whether Silverstein gets any of that cash may be determined by how a New York State law is interpreted. Under that law, a plaintiff who has been reimbursed for losses by an insurance company cannot file another civil suit to recover additional damages. Silverstein has already received a $4 billion settlement from insurance. He purchased a 99 year lease from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey just two months before the terrorist attacks.

As this legal struggle between giant corporations and government entities plays out 11 years after the event, the thousands of construction workers, public safety personnel and volunteers who dug through The Pile and helped clean up the site finally got some welcome news from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety. NIOSH has decided to add cancer to the list of illnesses covered by a special government medical treatment fund. Cancer rates among WTC workers are about 21 percent higher than the general population. More than 60,000 people are eligible for benefits under this expanded program.

Source: Reuters, "Jury could decide sticky issues of Sept. 11 airlines lawsuit," Sep. 11, 2012

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