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Judge opens way for lawsuits against airlines, others

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 10, 2003

NEW YORK - Opening the door to scores of Sept. 11 lawsuits against the aviation industry, a judge concluded Tuesday that the hijacking and crashing of a jetliner was a "foreseeable risk."

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said negligent security screening might have contributed to the deaths of about 3,000 people in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania.

"The aviation defendants controlled who came onto the planes and what was carried aboard. They had the obligation to take reasonable care in screening," he wrote.

The decision involved the cases of about 70 people injured or killed in the attacks.

The defendants - American and United Airlines, the Boeing Co. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - had sought dismissal of the lawsuits, saying that they had no duty to anticipate and guard against suicidal aircraft crashes and that any alleged negligence on their part did not cause deaths and injuries.

In his ruling, Hellerstein said that while it may be true that terrorists had never deliberately flown airplanes into buildings, "airlines reasonably could foresee that crashes causing death and destruction on the ground were a hazard that would arise should hijackers take control of a plane."

As for the Port Authority, which owns the World Trade Center property, the judge said it "has not shown that it will prove its defense of governmental immunity."

He said the plaintiffs have a right to argue the Port Authority did not provide a "safe environment."

As a result of the ruling, court officials were preparing for a possible rush of lawsuits as early as this week as some people choose litigation over the federal victims compensation fund. To receive a payout from the fund, families must agree not to sue airlines or other entities.

Spokesmen for American Airlines, United and Boeing said all three companies would appeal. Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said the agency strongly believes "the responsibility rests with the murderers who led the attacks."

"They are important findings, but they are preliminary," said Marc Moller, a lawyer for several hundred victims and their relatives. The judge "has not said that the airlines are liable. He said that if the plaintiffs can prove their case, the airlines could be liable. The litigation risks lie ahead and they are great."

Remains found this week likely from WTC attack

NEW YORK - Human bones and tissue found at a building near the World Trade Center site this week are believed to be from a victim of the terrorist attack two years ago.

Nine pieces, mostly bone and some tissue, were discovered Monday afternoon by workers helping repair 90 West Street, a 25-story landmark built in 1907, which was heavily damaged by trade center debris and has been closed since the attacks.

The building is about a block from where the south tower stood. A woman's pelvic bone was found there a year ago.

Poll: War on terror hasn't made Americans feel safer

WASHINGTON - Two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, most Americans feel no safer from terrorist threats despite the war on terrorism, efforts at homeland security and the invasion of Iraq, according to a survey released Tuesday.

In a poll conducted last week, 28 percent said they felt less safe than they did two years ago, 48 percent said they were neither safer nor less safe and 24 percent said they felt more safe.

In addition, a trend-line question asked repeatedly over the two years since the attacks shows a steady level of concern about more terrorist attacks at between 70 percent and 80 percent. Last week's poll showed that 73 percent were concerned about the possibility of additional attacks on the United States.

The poll of 1,217 people was conducted by Knowledge Networks for the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. It has a margin of error of 3 to 4 percentage points.

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