Port Authority Found Negligent in 1993 Bombing
October 27, 2005
register to NY Times to view original article)
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
A Manhattan jury said yesterday that the Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey was negligent in safeguarding the World Trade Center before the first
terror attack on the twin towers, the 1993 bombing that killed six people
and injured 1,000.
In a verdict that could prove costly for the Port Authority, the six-member
jury in State Supreme Court unanimously found that the agency did not heed
warnings that the underground garage was vulnerable to terrorist attack and
should be closed to public parking. This failure, the jury said, was "a
substantial factor" in allowing the bombing to occur.
It was in the basement garage below the trade center that Islamic terrorists
detonated a van packed with explosives on Feb. 26, 1993, foreshadowing the
attack that brought down the towers and killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept.
The verdict came after four weeks of testimony from security experts and
three former directors of the Port Authority. The jury took just over a day
to reach its decision.
Although Port Authority lawyers said they would appeal, it was the most
significant moment yet in a 12-year battle to hold the agency accountable
for the events of that February day, which ushered in a new era of security
consciousness in New York City and across the country.
The victims of the 1993 bombings never received the outpouring of public
support or government compensation that went to those of the much more
devastating 9/11 attacks.
More than 400 plaintiffs, including people hurt in the attack, families of
the dead and businesses, have lawsuits pending against the Port Authority,
lawyers said yesterday. The negligence verdict clears the way for them to
press forward with claims for lost wages, damage to businesses, and pain and
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they were seeking a total of as much as $1.8
billion. Those cases will be decided through separate legal proceedings,
which could end in trials or settlements. The authority also faces lawsuits
relating to the 9/11 attacks.
David J. Dean, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the verdict "an
extraordinary victory." The jury, he said, clearly accepted the plaintiffs'
argument that the Port Authority should have foreseen the terrorist attack,
based on warnings from its own experts as early as 1985, and shut down the
public parking garage.
"The case was never about blaming the terrorists," Mr. Dean said yesterday.
"It was about what the Port Authority should have done. They disregarded the
advice of their own experts and other experts. They were motivated by money.
They should have thought about the ultimate sacrifice of human lives."
Marc Kasowitz, the lead lawyer for the Port Authority, said the jury was
wrong in blaming the authority. "The Feb. 26, 1993, attack on the World
Trade Center was the act of terrorists for which terrorists alone are
responsible," he said. "The Port Authority believes in our American jury
system. It strongly believes that the decision in this case was egregiously
He said there were strong grounds for appeal of the verdict, "based on
errors made by the court during this trial."
The burden on the plaintiffs was to show that the Port Authority should have
foreseen the likelihood of a terrorist attack and taken steps to prevent it.
In order to reach a verdict, at least five of the six jurors had to agree.
The jury voted unanimously that the Port Authority was negligent. It found
the authority 68 percent at fault for the bombing, while the terrorists who
carried it out were 32 percent at fault.
Mr. Dean, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said that because the jury apportioned
more than half the blame to the Port Authority, the agency will have to pay
100 percent of any damages for pain and suffering, the so-called
non-economic damages, that might be awarded.
Regardless of how the blame was shared, the Port Authority would have to pay
100 percent of any economic damages, like lost business, he said.
The jury deadlocked, 4 to 2 in favor of the Port Authority, on whether that
negligence rose to the level of recklessness.
The plaintiffs, however, indicated that they considered the 4-to-2 vote a
hung jury, leaving open the possibility of a retrial on that question. Mr.
Kasowitz, the Port Authority lawyer, said he considered the verdict on
recklessness a no vote. Justice Nicholas Figueroa said that the lawyers
would return to court to discuss that portion of the verdict.
During the four weeks of testimony, the trial focused on a 1985 report by
the Office of Special Planning, an antiterrorist task force convened by
Peter Goldmark, who was the executive director of the Port Authority from
1977 to 1985.
Mr. Goldmark created the office in 1984, after becoming concerned that,
given terrorist activities in other parts of the world, the trade center, as
a symbol of American capitalism and strength, could be a target. After a
visit to Scotland Yard in London that year, he wrote a memo saying that
Scotland Yard was "appalled" that there would be public transient parking
beneath a facility like the World Trade Center.
The report concluded: "A time-bomb-laden vehicle could be driven into the
W.T.C. and parked in the public parking area. The driver would then exit via
elevator into the W.T.C. and proceed with his business unnoticed. At a
predetermined time, the bomb could be exploded in the basement. The amount
of explosives used will determine the severity of damage to that area."
Among the report's recommendations was: "Eliminate all public parking in the
World Trade Center." It also recommended a series of compromise steps,
including guarded entrances to the parking lots, random searches of vehicles
and restrictions on pedestrian access.
The report came out about four months after Mr. Goldmark left the Port
Authority, and his successors decided not to close the public lot, citing
the potential loss of revenue and inconvenience to tenants, according to
evidence at the trial. They also decided against most of the compromise
In 1991, according to the testimony, the Port Authority commissioned a
second report, from Burns and Roe Securacom, a private security company.
That report found that the major risk to the trade center was from a package
or hand-held bomb, and that the shopping and pedestrian areas, not the
parking garage, would be the most likely targets.
Several jurors interviewed after the verdict yesterday said the mere fact
that the 1985 predictions came true had weighed heavily in the verdict.
One of the jurors, Rafael Garcia, a development executive at Nickelodeon,
who lives in Chelsea, called the report "irrefutable evidence" that was
"eerily prescient as far as what could happen."
"The O.S.P. report was paramount," said Ray Gonzalez, another juror, who
lives in Murray Hill and is the director of housekeeping for a nursing home.
"Unfortunately, from there, everybody seemed to drop the ball."
Jurors said that they were impressed by Mr. Goldmark, who testified for the
plaintiffs and wept on the stand, and that they found the witnesses for the
defense less credible. "Goldmark was the only one who didn't seem to be a
Port Authority company man," said the jury foreman, Alan Nelson, 54, of
Washington Heights, who works in the services department of a law firm.
In contrast, he said, the witnesses for the Port Authority, "seemed highly
programmed in their answers," and seemed to be speaking, "from a
bureaucratic, organization-man point of view."
The jurors said they had been offended, as the plaintiffs had hoped, by the
Port Authority's focus on the potential for economic losses of a terrorist
One defense witness, a security consultant, Robert Ducibella, referred to
the loss of human life as "collateral damage." In one of the reports
highlighted by the plaintiffs, the Port Authority rated the window-washing
machine as a potentially important loss. From the beginning, the Sept. 11
attack hung over the trial like a ghost. The judge forbade both sides from
mentioning it, saying that what happened after 1993 was not relevant.
But both sides knew 9/11 would be in the minds of the jury, and the Port
Authority repeatedly tried to capitalize on that by suggesting that nothing
was going to stop terrorists from one day trying to take down the towers.
Mr. Nelson, the jury foreman, said that while he was satisfied with the
verdict, "it's kind of an empty feeling in a way."
"We're talking about a building that is no longer there," he said.
Colin Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.