United found not liable for alleged 9/11 security lapse

Wed Nov 21, 2012 3:07pm EST
 

By Jonathan Stempel and Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - United Airlines bears no responsibility for the collapse of a third World Trade Center building on September 11, 2001, stemming from suspected airport security lapses that allowed hijackers to crash an American Airlines plane into the complex, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein granted a request by United and its parent, United Continental Holdings Inc, to dismiss negligence claims by Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center property, over the destruction of 7 World Trade Center.

Tower 7 collapsed several hours after being pierced by debris from the crash of AMR Corp's American Airlines Flight 11 into the nearby 1 World Trade Center, one of the Twin Towers.

Two of the Flight 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari, had begun their trip to New York at the Portland International Jetport, in Maine. There, they boarded a flight by US Airways carrier Colgan Air to Boston's Logan International Airport, from which they connected onto the American Airlines plane.

Silverstein said that because United was among the carriers that ran Portland's only security checkpoint, it was legally responsible for the screening of all passengers and had missed a "clear chance" to prevent the hijacking.

Hellerstein, a judge in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in Manhattan, concluded that United did not owe "a duty of care" to Silverstein. He said that United, which is currently the largest U.S. carrier, could not have foreseen events that led to the destruction of Tower 7.

"It was not within United's range of apprehension that terrorists would slip through the security screening checkpoint, fly to Logan, proceed through another air carrier's security screening and board that air carrier's flight, hijack the flight and crash it into 1 World Trade Center, let alone that 1 World Trade Center would therefore collapse and cause Tower 7 to collapse," Hellerstein wrote.

In 2009, Hellerstein had dismissed claims against other airlines for damages caused by United Flight 175, which also crashed into the Twin Towers. Hellerstein has presided over almost all U.S. litigation over the September 11 attacks.   Continued...

 
Two men identified by authorities as suspected hijackers Mohammed Atta (R) and Abdulaziz Alomari (C) pass through airport security September 11, 2001 at Portland International Jetport in Maine in an image from airport surveillance tape released September 19, 2001. REUTERS/PORTLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT-Handout HS/HB