Port Authority can't be sued over 1993 WTC bombing

John O'Brien Sep. 23, 2011, 12:37pm


ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - New York's highest court has ruled that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is immune to claims resulting from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

The Port Authority had been found at fault for not preventing the bombing, which killed six people. But the New York Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, by a 4-3 vote, that claims against it are barred by governmental immunity.

The Port Authority oversees centers of commerce and trade, such as transportation hugs like ports, airports, bridges and tunnels. Though a public agency, its funding is generated by the properties it owns, like the World Trade Center, and not from tax revenue.

The bombing took place in the parking garage under the North Tower, one of two towers struck by an airplane during 9/11.

"(T)he governmental immunity doctrine requires us to find the Port Authority insulated from tortious liability," Judge Theodore Jones wrote.

"Our courts simply cannot ignore that this policy-based doctrine is 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.

Plaintiffs numbering 648 sued the Port Authority over the 1993 bombing. The claims, which said the Port Authority did not provide adequate security, were joined and steered by a plaintiffs committee.

An appeals court had ruled the Port Authority failed in its capacity as a commercial landlord. Jones wrote that governmental entities can't be expected to be "infallible guarantors of public safety."

Judge Carmen Ciparick dissented. She said the Port Authority's status as a governmental entity does not shield it from liability because the negligence stemmed from its actions as a commercial landlord.

"This immunity is available only if the state entity is performing a government function," she wrote.

Judges Susan Read, Eugene Pigott and Thomas Mercure joined Jones in the majority, while judges Victoria Graffeo and Gail Prudenti sided with Ciparick. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Judge Robert Smith did not take part in the decision and were replaced by Mercure and Prudenti.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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