A New York jury agreed with World Trade Center leaseholder Larry Silverstein that the attack on the twin towers by a pair of hijacked planes was two insurable events, requiring nine companies, including St. Paul Travelers Cos., to pay as much as double their policy limits.
The win opens the door for Silverstein, 73, to get up to $1.1 billion more on top of a minimum payment of $3.55 billion. The developer said before the trial it would cost about $7.5 billion to replace all 10 million square feet of offices lost in the Sept. 11 attack.
Silverstein’s exact recovery is to be decided in an arbitration that would set the value of the 110-story twin towers and two smaller buildings nearby at the time of their destruction, an effort that is under way already, according to Silverstein attorney Herbert Wachtell. A negotiated settlement is likely, said David Wood, a San Francisco attorney who represents corporate policyholders against insurers.
“If it’s two occurrences instead of one, then he” — Silverstein — “controls the evaluation,” Wood said before the verdict. The leaseholder’s victory is “a huge incentive for everybody to sit down and work this thing out.”
Silverstein lost to a separate group of insurers in an earlier phase of the case. Both sides might appeal the verdicts in which they were defeated and other decisions in the lawsuit, which was filed five weeks after the towers were destroyed.
The jury deliberated for 11 days over more than three weeks after more than four weeks of trial testimony.
Following his earlier court defeat in May, Silverstein’s landlord, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, sent a letter demanding a plan that shows he has the financial wherewithal to rebuild and insure the property.
Silverstein said before the trial that with $3.55 billion he could afford to build the first skyscraper, the $1.5 billion 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, and a second; then he would borrow against those buildings to pay for the last three.
In addition to funding the rebuilding, Silverstein also needs the money to keep paying his $109 million a year rent to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the 16- acre site. In May, Silverstein lost a 10-week trial to Swiss Reinsurance Co., his largest carrier, and nine other insurers, denying him a chance for another $2.1 billion.
The developer has already filed papers to appeal that verdict to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal has been awaiting the outcome of this phase of the case, said Wachtell, who heads up Silverstein’s team of 12 attorneys on this case.
In the earlier trial, the jury found the parties had agreed to a preliminary insurance policy written by Silverstein’s insurance agent, Willis Group Ltd., which defined the word occurrence in a way that could only mean the two-jet attack was a single total loss claim.
None of the nine insurers in this phase had agreed to that contract, known as the Wilprop form. Besides Travelers, the other insurers who lost are Allianz AG, Gulf Insurance Co., Industrial Risk Insurers, Royal Indemnity Co., Zurich American Insurance Co., TIG Insurance Co., Twin City Fire Insurance Co. and Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance Co. Ltd.
The insurers, led by Travelers attorney Harvey Kurzweil, argued that the definition of occurrence used in the Wilprop form was the industry’s common understanding of the term. They said that when he was negotiating the contracts, Silverstein was looking for a single consistent insurance program, and therefore expected that Wilprop’s definition would apply whether or not it was explicitly stated in each agreement.