Duty of care ruling gives green light to 11 September lawsuits

A Manhattan judge has ruled that airlines, aviation security companies and port authorities did have a duty of care to people affected by the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington DC.

Southern District Judge Hellerstein refused to dismiss the lawsuits against American Airlines, United Airlines, aviation security companies and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

As revealed on www.the lawyer.com (10 September), Judge Hellerstein said the harm to those in the buildings and on the ground was reasonably foreseeable by airport screeners and the managers of the World Trade Center.

The decision means that those who have opted out of the federal Victim Compensation Fund can go ahead with compensation claims against the companies and authorities. The suits have been consolidated into five complaints, one each for victims of each of the crashed planes and a fifth for those seeking compensation for property damage.

The aviation companies had argued that they owed a duty of care to the crews and passengers on the planes, but not to victims on the ground. Judge Hellerstein disagreed, saying that imposing a duty on the companies best allocates risk to ground victims suffering as a result of inadequate screening. When the defendants argued that the attacks were unprecedented and therefore unforeseeable, the judge countered that the risk of crash caused by inadequate security could be predicted.

Desmond Barry Jr of Condon & Forsyth is the defendants’ liaison counsel and Marc Moller of Kreindler & Kreindler is the plaintiffs’.