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American Shipper

N.Y.-N.J. port authority fears liability after jury allows lawsuits

N.Y.-N.J. port authority fears liability after jury allows lawsuits

   After a jury decision last week that found the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey partially at fault for allowing the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center to occur, the port authority said the amount being sought by victims — unless drastically scaled down — would compromise its operations and likely bring on an increase in tolls and fares.

   On Feb. 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists detonated a Ryder van filled with explosives in the World Trade Center's underground parking garage. The explosion killed six people in the garage and injured about 1,000. The port authority has already negotiated settlements with the estates of five of the dead, and is close to settling with a sixth.

   Lawyers for about 400 additional plaintiffs have said they will seek up to $1.8 billion for physical and emotion pain, as well as the loss of profits and wages. That exceeds the amount of money the port authority will spend in 2005 on capital projects.

   Such an award 'clearly will create substantial financial issues for the port authority,' said Anthony Coscia, port authority chairman.

   Coscia said he considered such an award highly unlikely. Lawyers often seek damages in excess of what they can reasonably expect.

   Still, the jury's verdict came as a shock to the port authority, its officials and their attorneys. The jury unanimously ruled that the port authority was 68 percent at fault for allowing the bombing to occur, while the terrorists who carried it out were 32 percent responsible.

   'We all bear some responsibility for allowing terrorists to perpetuate these acts. I don't think one particular agency was any more or less responsible,' Coscia said.

   At the crux of the case was the issue of whether the port authority had fulfilled its duty to enforce security in the World Trade Center's garage.

   If the plaintiffs' lawyers prevail and the full $1.8 billion is awarded, the port authority would be 'reduced to doing very little at all,' Coscia said. In that eventuality, the port authority would consider raising the tolls and fares it charges for the public to use facilities such as the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the PATH rail system connecting New York City and New Jersey.

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