How is the Port Authority more responsible than the terrorists?


In a recent civil trial, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the owners of the World Trade Center) were found 68 percent responsible for the Feb 26, 1993 bombing in which six people died. The terrorists were found to be 32 percent responsible.

I’m kind of curious how the jury could possibly have found the PA twice as responsible as the terrorists themselves? Certainly, if there were security lapses then the PA is responsible to some degree - but by what logic are they more responsible than the terrorists themselves?

Zev Steinhardt

Placed in GQ because I am looking for a factual answer. However, I realize that this could easily spill over into GD, IMHO or even the Pit. Please feel free to move if necessary.

I think the logic is that the Port Authority knew that the WTC was a target for terrorists and didn’t take the neccesary precautions to prevent the bomb. In other words, it was their negligence that allowed the people who died to die.

From the site you link to:

So the line of argumentation was that attacks on the WTC had to be expected to happen sooner or later, so the Authority had to take precuations, which it didn’t because it would have reduced profits (by inconveniencing tenants).

I think the logic is that the Port Authority has money and the terrorist don’t (that we can seize).

I do not know any of the details of the WTC case, but it would appear to fall into the category of cases in which a landlord is sued for defective security precautions.

Generally, an intentional wrongdoer should be more liable than a landlord who in merely negligent in its security precautions. But courts have found exceptions.

In a more typical case, consider a building in a bad neighborhood, with a very high rate of assault where the front door lock is broken, and the landlord knews that the is broken and that it is likely that a tenant will be assaulted if the lock remains broken. If the landlord ignores the broken door lock and a tenant is assaulted by a criminal who gained access from the broken lock, then the landlord might be found liable.

Or, as the New York courts have put it: “Landlords have a common-law duty to take minimal precautions to protect tenants from foreseeable harm, including foreseeable criminal conduct by a third person”

Venetal v City of New York is a recent case regarding the rape of a young woman on the roof of a City housing project in Brooklyn. The court found that the plaintiff had brought forward enough information to defeat the City’s motion for summary judgment, allowing the case to go to trial to determine whether the City Housing Authority was liable. The court held (citations omitted):

The WTC case was a jury verdict, which may well be overturned on appeal, that most likely held that it was forseeable that a terrorist would be likely to drive a vehicle bomb into the parking lot, and that the Port Authority, as landlord, should have taken precautions to avoid that.

Thanks for the response, Billdo. I wasn’t questioning that the PA was responsible at all - certainly they should be if they ignored warnings. I was curious how it could be that they were more (indeed, twice as) responsible as the terrorists themselves.

Zev Steinhardt

Frankly, I think kanicbird is on the right track. I suspect that Deep Pockets is probably playing a role here. Also, I think people may be forgetting that, in those days, terrorism simply did not rank very highly in the public consciousness.

Billdo, do you have any thoughts on why the civil law must divide up a total of 100% of the responsibility in such a case? ISTM that that’s a defect in NY civil law that criminal law avoids - for instance, if three thugs beat someone to death, they don’t assign each thug 1/3 of the responsibility; the law can sentence each thug as if they’re 100% responsible, which is closer to the truth.

I’d say that that’s the underlying problem with this case - the terrorists were 100% responsible for the 1993 bombing, but IIRC the Port Authority was well aware of the risk and (IMO and apparently in the jury’s as well) had a better-than-middlin’ responsibility for guarding against it, which they failed to do.