N.Y. Port Authority liable in '93 attack

October 27, 2005|By KAREN FREIFELD | KAREN FREIFELD,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- A jury found the Port Authority negligent yesterday in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, a long-awaited victory for victims of the terrorist attack that killed six people and injured more than 1,000 eight years before the Sept. 11 attack destroyed the buildings.

The six-person jury in State Supreme Court found the Port Authority, the agency that owned the trade center, liable for not heeding the warnings of its security consultants about the dangers of such an attack in the public parking garage.

The jury, which was asked to determine fault, found the authority 68 percent responsible for the attack and assigned the terrorists 32 percent responsibility.

Appeal planned

A lawyer for the authority called the verdict "egregiously incorrect" and said the agency planned to appeal.

"The Feb. 26, 1993, attack on the World Trade Center was an act of terrorists, for which terrorists alone are responsible," Marc Kasowitz said.

About noon on Feb. 26, 1993, a bomb hidden in a Ryder van equal to 1,500 pounds of dynamite blew up in the basement garage. The explosion blew a crater in the garage, shook the towers and sent smoke through the complex.

In 1994, Muslim extremists were convicted in the plot. But legal delays held up the civil case for more than a decade.

Jury foreman Alan Nelson said after the verdict that the jury found the authority negligent because the agency's own reports commissioned in the 1980s had warned of the garage's vulnerability to terrorist car bombs and the agency then dropped the ball.

"You simply had to look at the series of reports in the 1980s seeing at least a danger of car bombings and so on," Nelson said. "The Port Authority, at one time, had a proactive, energized leadership, and it just didn't seem it continued.

"And that weighed heavily on us."

The foreman singled out Peter Goldmark, the authority's executive director from 1977 to 1985, as being proactive, pointing out that he even traveled to Scotland Yard to investigate the problem of terrorism.

"The big tragedy is Peter Goldmark left about the time the report came out," Nelson said. "It was a missed chance, and things sort of fell into the bureaucratic tunnel."

Matter of math

Asked how the jurors came up with the 68 percent fault figure against the authority, juror Shana Marks-Odinga said it was simple math. "Each of the jurors gave a percentage. Out of fairness, we had to divide by six."

All six jurors agreed that the authority's negligence was a "substantial factor" in permitting the bombing to occur, but they could not agree on whether it agency acted with "reckless disregard."

Two jurors voted yes, while four voted no.

David Dean, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the fact that the jury found the authority more than 50 percent liable meant "every victim who sues will be able to get 100 percent of the damages."

The more than 400 cases consolidated for the liability trial will now be separated to determine damages.

Saying there were strong grounds for appeal, the authority's Kasowitz placed blame squarely on the terrorists.

"To hold the Port Authority twice as liable as these terrorists for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing stands logic, rationality and reason on its head," he said.

But Dean said the case was never about the terrorists.

"It was always about the failure of the Port Authority to respond," he said. "They should have closed the garage.

"Lives would have been saved. Thousands of people would not have been injured."

Karen Freifeld is a reporter for Newsday.

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