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The Globe and Mail

Sept. 11 case against airlines could end up before jury

The Tribute in Light shines above the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty, left. Tuesday marks the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mark Lennihan/AP

Most of the lawsuits arising from the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center 11 years ago have been settled, but one demanding that United Airlines and American Airlines Inc. be held liable for loss of property and business could go to trial.

Two recent rulings by a federal judge in New York denying the airlines' bid to dismiss the lawsuit over a narrow insurance dispute have opened the door to the entire case ending up in the hands of a jury.

At issue is whether the two airlines and other defendants should pay additional damages to Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center property, beyond what he has already received from his own insurer.

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Mr. Silverstein's World Trade Center Properties blamed United, now United Continental Holdings Inc., and American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp., for breaches of security. The 2008 lawsuit also named aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., the Massachusetts Port Authority, which manages Logan International Airport, and security companies.

The lawsuit claimed that negligence allowed hijackers to board two planes at the Boston airport and use them as missiles to destroy the 110-storey twin towers and cause other buildings on the site in lower Manhattan to burn down. Before Sept. 11, the airlines and the security companies they hired oversaw security at airports and on planes. That responsibility now lies with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, a government agency.

Mr. Silverstein is seeking $8.4-billion (U.S.) in damages for loss of property and lost business, even though U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein has limited the amount to the $2.8-billion Mr. Silverstein paid for the leases. The lawsuit is among the last pieces of litigation resulting from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which killed more than 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Lawsuits brought by relatives of those killed, people left injured, first responders, cleanup workers and some businesses have been settled.

Judge Hellerstein, who sits in a courthouse less than a mile from the World Trade Center site, has presided over almost all Sept. 11 litigation.

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