UPDATE 7/19/2013, 2:48 p.m. ET: A federal judge rejected developer Larry Silverstein's lawsuit to collect damages from the two airlines whose plans were used to attack the World Trade Center. U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that Silverstein had already received compensation from insurers in 2004. Silverstein vows to appeal.
This week, a federal judge will rule on the ultimate property damage lawsuit: 9/11. It’s been twelve years, but World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein is still going after airlines, airports and even the airplane manufacturers. It isn’t the first time an airline has been sued for a terrorist attack. After Pan American Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, victims' families sued Pan Am.
"Pan Am is the prototype of a terrorism litigation," says James Kreindler, an attorney who litigated the case.
After seven years, Kreindler and his colleagues won more than half a billion dollars for families of the Lockerbie victims. It was a more sympathetic case than this 9/11 property damage case, where the "victim" is a real estate developer.
"You know, it doesn’t have the enormous emotional appeal as family members whose family members were killed," says Kreindler, "but legally the claim should be the same."
That claim is that the aviation companies were negligent in the security procedures that allowed terrorists to board planes and enter their cockpits. While proving negligence is a high bar, it is not as high as it would be in a case against an individual.
"You’ve got a problem when you’re dealing with airlines," says Bruce Ottley, law professor at DePaul University. "They’re public carriers. And they’re held to a higher standard than you or I are held to."
If the judge finds the aviation companies fell short, they could be on the hook for up to $3.5 billion.