Court Upholds Juries’ Rulings in World Trade Center Claims

October 19, 2006

A federal court has upheld the jury verdicts that recognized the two-plane terrorist attacks on the towers at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 as a single event for some insurers and two events for others.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York found no fault with letting jurors decide the meaning of “event” for insurance purposes.

As a result, it let stand an April verdict that held the attacks to be one event under the insurance binder used by major insurers. Under this verdict, WTC developer Larry Silverstein and his Silverstein Properties became entitled to about $4.6 billion.

The decision also affirms a separate jury verdict for nine other insurers that found the event was two claims under a different binder they used while negotiating final coverage terms.

The case is SR International Business Insurance Company Ltd. versus World Trade Center Properties, LLC, et al.

The decision came in an appeal of two separate trials over the World Trade Center and its insurance coverage. Silverstein had argued he was entitled as a mater of law to have the events treated as two claims and that the issue should not have been turned over to jurors.

The Second Circuit took issue with Silverstein’s contention that the divergent judgments entered in these cases was the product of error. “These forms were designed with different interests in mind and, not surprisingly, yielded different results. In our opinion, the jury’s determination that the insurers provided different coverage is not a manifestation of judicial error,” the court wrote.

It said the separate verdicts reflected “the fact that the parties were at various stages of negotiating coverage when the two hijacked airplanes destroyed the WTC.”

Jurors in the first trial, which ended last April, found that the two-plane attacks constituted a single “occurrence” as set forth a binding form known as the WilProp. This verdict meant Swiss Re, several Lloyd’s insurers, Chubb and other companies were held responsible for one, not two, claims.

Jurors in the second trial involved other insurers that did not use the WilProp form but instead relied upon one issued by Travelers. The jury found that these insurers had not yet issued final policies and interpreted the Travelers’ insurance binder to allow for two separate attacks.

The defendants in the second trial were: Allianz Global Risks, St. Paul/Travelers (Gulf Insurance), Industrial Risk Insurers (a unit of General Electric), Royal & SunAlliance (Royal Indemnity), TIG Insurance (a unit of Canada’s Fairfax Financial), Tokio Marine & Fire (Millea Group), Zurich Financial (Zurich American) and Twin City Fire Insurance (a unit of The Hartford).

Insurer Swiss Re said the decision means that its payment obligation is subject to the terms and conditions of the operative Willis policy and cannot exceed Swiss Re’s 25 percent share of the $3.5 billion loss limit Silverstein purchased.

“The Second Circuit affirmed a unanimous jury verdict finding that the destruction of the WTC on September 11, 2001, was a single occurrence under the terms of Swiss Re’s coverage. Silverstein’s two-occurrence claim against Swiss Re gave rise to five years of protracted litigation,” said Jacques Dubois, CEO, Swiss Re America Holding Corp. “Today’s decision resolves Silverstein’s two-occurrence claim once-and-for-all in Swiss Re’s favor. As it has since the days following 9/11, Swiss Re will continue to honor its contractual obligations under the terms of coverage it agreed to provide before 9/11.”

The St. Paul Travelers Companies, Inc. said the decision would not result in an earnings charge as the impact of the lower court’s decision had already been recognized in the company’s financial statements.

Topics Carriers Claims Swiss Re

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