In end, lawsuit over property could assign 9/11 blame

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official assists commuters passing through weapon-detection equipment.

Sarah Gardner: This September 11, 11 years after the World Trade Center attacks, at least one big lawsuit is still lurking. At issue: the airlines and whether they're on the hook for lax security the morning of the attacks. The accuser: The developer of theTwin Towers, who wants nearly $3 billion.

Marketplace's Scott Tong has the story.


Scott Tong: The plaintiff is Larry Silverstein, the high-profile developer of the World Trade Center. He’s suing United and American Airlines for lax security, arguing they bear responsibility for his property damage.

Remember, this happened before TSA patdowns. Airlines did security. Aviation lawyer Robert Clifford says back then, they outsourced, and they skimped.

Robert Clifford: We ultimately knew that we had checkpoint security people who were making less money than the folks down the terminal who were flipping burgers.

Airlines have been sued before for terror acts. Family members of victims on Lockerbie Flight 103 sued Pan Am. And won.

So, attorney Mike Danko says, Larry Silverstein has precedent.

Mike Danko: It’s not kind of wild and crazy. He’s taking a lot of heat in the press. But this is not particularly novel. What is unusual is that he is a property owner rather than a family member of a passenger.

Most 9/11 families didn’t go after the airlines, because the government set up a special fund for them. Today, of course, the federal TSA runs the metal detectors. And Danko argues it’s less accountable.

Danko: The federal government is entitled to sovereign immunity. So basically we’re going back hundreds of years. The thought was, you couldn’t sue the king. And now you can’t sue the federal government, unless the federal government says, 'Yes, it’s OK to sue us.'

So in the end, after investigations into terrorism and intelligence failings, it’s the airlines that could go to trial.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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