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NEW YORK—The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey cannot be held liable for failing to deter the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the state's highest court has ruled.
Overturning two decisions by lower courts, the New York Court of Appeals ruled 4-3 this week that the bi-state transportation agency is immune from liability tied to its efforts to provide security for the complex because it acted as an agent of the government.
“Governmental entities cannot be expected to be absolute, infallible guarantors of public safety,” Judge Theodore Jones Jr. wrote for the majority. The Port Authority's police patrol of the World Trade Center, which it owns, was used to service all public and private visitors to the complex, and not—as lower courts had ruled—strictly a landlord protecting its property, according to the appeals court decision.
Laws back exercise of discretion
Federal laws protect governmental agencies from certain tort claims and are “intended to afford deference to the exercise of discretion by the officials of municipalities and governmental entities, especially with respect to security measures and the deployment of limited police resources,” Judge Jones wrote.
In 2005, a Manhattan jury determined that the Port Authority was 68% liable for the attack, a decision upheld by a lower appellate court in 2008.
Six people were killed and nearly 1,000 were injured when terrorists detonated a car bomb on Feb. 28, 1993, in a parking garage beneath Tower 1 of the trade center complex. Both towers were closed for more than a month, barring hundreds of companies from returning to their offices.
A year after the attack, 648 plaintiffs—largely those injured in the attack and WTC tenants unable to access their offices—filed more than 170 lawsuits against the Port Authority, alleging that the agency ignored previous reports citing security deficiencies at the WTC. While a majority of those suits were settled out of court, several personal injury and business interruption claims still are outstanding.
“While we are still reviewing the decision, we are pleased that the court has accepted the Port Authority's longstanding position on this matter recognizing its continuing governmental immunity,” a spokesman for the Port Authority said. “(This) ruling brings us closer to a final resolution of this emotional process.”