Last week, New York State’s high court cleared Port Authority of New York and New Jersey of negligence claims in the 1993 World Trade Center parking garage bombing. The Sept. 22 ruling reverses lower courts’ decision.
The Court of Appeals in a 4-3 divided ruling stated the transit agency is immune from negligence claims regarding its security measures. The court stated that “governmental immunity doctrine” would apply to the transit agency. The agency operates the region’s airports and owns the trade center site.
Applying Governmental Immunity Doctrine
“Governmental entities cannot be expected to be absolute, infallible guarantors of public safety, but in order to encourage them to engage in the affirmative
conduct of diligently investigating security vulnerabilities and implementing appropriate safeguards, they must be provided with the latitude to render those critical decisions without threat of legal repercussion,” the court stated.
The court also added that while the terrorist bombing occurred within the parking garage and that it may focus some attention on proprietary responsibility, the Port Authority’s police resources were devoted to countering criminal incidents for the benefit of all who visited the WTC.
Any failure to secure the parking garage against terrorist attack predominantly derives from “a failed allocation of police resources,” the court stated. It noted, “even when proprietary functions may be involved, if the essential nature of the governmental agency’s injury-causing acts or omissions was a failure to provide security involving police resources — i.e., police protection — then a governmental function was being performed.”
“In sum, we are compelled to hold in favor of the Port Authority because our precedent dictates that the provision of security for the benefit of a greater populace involving the allocation of police resources constitutes the performance of a governmental function,” the court ruling stated.
Three Judges Dissent
In the dissent opinion, however, Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, senior associate judge of the Court of Appeals, wrote, “On Feb. 26, 1993, terrorists detonated a powerful car bomb in the subterranean parking area of WTC. Our Court has been charged with determining whether defendant the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned and operated the WTC, can be liable for negligently failing to provide adequate security in the subterranean garage. I conclude that the Port Authority’s status as a government entity does not shield it from liability because the alleged negligence stemmed from proprietary activities taken in its capacity as a commercial landlord.”
The Feb. 26, 1993, parking garage bombing, in which a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killed six people and injured about 1,000.
The ruling from high court comes after the majority of claims have already been settled. The remaining claims include a few personal injury claims and a business interruption case from financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald which was a WTC tenant.
The case is In the Matter of World Trade Center Bombing Litigation. Steering Committee, et al.,Respondents,v.The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Appellant, Sept. 22, No. 217, Court of Appeals of State of New York.