September 19, 2001 - Lawsuits from WTC attacks likely to be in the billions
Thousands of lawsuits for billions of dollars beyond the cost of any lost property or buildings loom in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster. Plaintiffs' lawyers already have been contacted by families of victims, but so far have not brought any action to court.
Attorneys are adhering to a moratorium requested by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the American Bar Association following last week's disastrous terror attack.
The amount of litigation may be enormous, "thousands and thousands of lawsuits involving billions and billions," of dollars said a local New York attorney. It may be years before these cases are tried. The New York attorney knows. He is the lead plaintiff attorney in a lawsuit brought by more than 400 individuals against the Port Authority for the 1993 WTC bombing. Eight years later that case is still pending in Manhattan Supreme Court.
With last week's attack, the Port Authority is likely to be in for more litigation, along with the trade center's new landlord, Silverstein Properties. But the list of defendants won't stop with them. "I can see some lawyers at some point suing Afghanistan, [terror mastermind Osama] Bin Laden, if as it turns out he's the bad guy, Iraq if they're the bad guy," said a Chicago-based attorney who has represented plaintiffs in several big airline accident cases.
Years ago, Congress made it easier to sue foreign governments for acts of terrorism.
Insurance companies, who already are estimating claims of $30 billion or more, could also be sued if they turn down claims under an act of war clause. American and United airlines, whose planes hit the WTC, are the most visible targets. Reportedly, they've approached Congress about limiting their liability. "We believe that any change in law needs to be steadily measured," said another big plaintiff lawyer from Chicago.
He also foresees "creative" lawyers trying to go after the federal government for delegating airport security to the airlines. But district court judges, not juries who might be more readily swayed, hear those cases.
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