U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s ruling cited possibly negligent security operations as a contributing factor in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. His decision clears the way for those injured, as well as the families of the deceased, to continue their suits against American and United airlines.
“While it may be true that terrorists had not before deliberately flown planes into buildings, the airlines reasonably could foresee that crashes causing death and destruction on the ground was a hazard that would arise should hijackers take control of an airplane,” Hellerstein said.
The Manhattan judge rejected an airline industry argument that the lawsuits should be thrown out because the airlines could not have predicted the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Hellerstein also gave the go-ahead for Sept. 11-related claims against the Port Authority and trade center, as well as Boeing. He rejected Port Authority claims that it had government immunity and no duty to protect occupants against deliberate and suicidal airline attacks.
“Large-scale fire was precisely the risk against which the WTC defendants had a duty to guard and which they should have reasonably foreseen,” Hellerstein said.
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said the agency strongly believes “that the responsibility rests with the murderers who led the attacks.”
The two airlines vowed to appeal.
“We continue to believe that we are not liable for the events that occurred that day,” said American Airlines spokesman Todd Burke. “In recognition of that, Congress passed legislation immediately after the terrorist attacks to compensate victims. We believe that is the fairest, most efficient way, for compensating these individuals.”
United Airlines, meanwhile, said it “does not believe that it was our legal responsibility to protect the ground victims from these attacks.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called Hellerstein’s ruling a landmark decision.