October 27, 2005

Is it negligent to have a parking garage under a building?

A jury in Manhattan found the Port Authority negligent for allowing public parking under the World Trade Center:
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. 11, 2001.

The verdict came after four weeks of testimony from security experts and three former directors of the Port Authority....

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."

There are more than 400 plaintiffs, seeking $1.8 billion. The jury, which was unanimous, had to fix the percentage of blame for the Port Authority, as opposed to the terrorists. It decided that the terrorists bore 32% of the fault, with the rest of the blame falling on the Port Authority. Under the law applicable in the case, as explained by the plaintiff's lawyer, the Port Authority will have to pay 100% of the economic and noneconomic damages.

Jurors were impressed by 1985 report by the Office of Special Planning and by the testimony of Peter Goldmark, who directed 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."...

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."
There was striking evidence in this case because Goldmark paid attention to the problem and a conscious decision was made not to solve it. But perhaps, once an attack occurs, we ought to expect, the owners of any building with a public parking garage will be viewed as negligent.

15 comments:

Dave said...

Miers withdrew.

No doubt thanks to your blogging on the subject.

Jacques Cuze said...

Do you feel this is any different than a home owner leaving a ladder next to her house? Or having a pool without a fence around it?

somross said...

Okay, it's 8:09; how sooon until the blog reflects Harriet Miers's withdrawal?

jult52 said...

This verdict is unbelievable. If an entity assesses the risk of an event, decides it is not cost effective to remedy it and the event occurs anyway, it is on the hook? Tort reform anyone?

Nick said...

Frankly I'm shocked by this... not only that they would blame a company for having parking under a building... which I think for a building of that type is a given... but for only afixing 32% blame on the terrorists? What was wrong with those people?

Do they only blame the 9/11 hijackers 32% for crashing airplanes into the same buildings years later?

Honestly... that is just nuts. This WAS all about money. The jurors thought that the plantiffs deserved some cash, knew that they couldn't get it out of the terrorists, and so decided that the port authority could afford to fork over some cash.

Absolutely pathetic.

dax said...

This is a clear victory for the insurance industry.

csh said...

This is insanity. I can't help but think the jury was influenced by 9/11 and the emotions of terrorism in general.

Can you imagine the lawsuits that would have happened if the port authority had actually tried to close down that garage?

csh

reader_iam said...

I'm finding it almost impossible to get past the 32%. @#%@#%$!

I think that in these times, we need to rethink how things are built and configured with such things a terrorism in mind. HOWEVER, to so diminish the culpability of perpetrators of ANY kind is absurd.

So, if I leave my house unlocked, it's only 32% the fault of a burglar if things get taken?

It is EXACTLY this sort of thing which makes people SO cynical about the legal system, in general, including lawyers and judges and juries and even plaintiffs. From the Supreme Court all the way down, we seem to get decisions that defy all common sense, turn logic on its head, and appear to be devoid of intellectual integrity or honesty.

Color me disgusted.

And btw, this DOES mean, of course, that all those who are opposed to free-standing parking garages on the grounds that they are ugly or don't fit in with character or environment of a neighborhood will back off, right? And zoning laws etc. will of course be modified so that public entities and businesses alike will actually HAVE multiple options in future, right?

I won't hold my breath.

jeff said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
alkali said...

jult52 writes:

This verdict is unbelievable. If an entity assesses the risk of an event, decides it is not cost effective to remedy it and the event occurs anyway, it is on the hook?

Well, yes, depending on what you mean by cost effective. Suppose that there's a dangerous condition on my property that will likely cause me $100,000 in damage, and it will cost me $80,000 to fix it. In that case, I will conclude it is cost-effective to fix the condition.

Now suppose that the condition is likely to cause me $10,000 in damage and you $90,000 in damage. It is not "cost-effective" for me to fix the condition if I only take into account my own damage, but I would be negligent if I did not do so.

nick writes:

Frankly I'm shocked by this... affixing 32% blame on the terrorists?

Negligence law varies from state to state, but it is generally the case that the jury is asked to apportion fault among the various parties involved, including the plaintiffs, and whether there is an award (and its size) depends on the apportionment of fault. (For example: I slip on your sidewalk; a jury finds that I am 25% at fault for not looking where I was going and you are 75% at fault for not clearing the ice.)

I was recently surprised to find that there is not a lot of informative case law on how this is supposed to work where there are intentional wrongdoers involved (like the terrorists in this case). I agree that apportioning "32%" of the fault to them makes no sense here.

yetanotherjohn said...

Okay. Buildings can burn down. When they burn, they can cause damage to people and property. Got that.You have now been warned.
By the way, there are arsonists out there. They like to set buildings on fire. Lots of different motives, but the operative fact is that they set buildings on fire.
So anyone who has a building (office, plant, home, etc) is now liable for any damage caused if an arsonist burns down their building. Any questions? Isn't law simple and wonderful?

PatCA said...

"...an extraordinary victory."

A gift.

Yes, Jeff, I thought apportioning blame was pretty much reserved for cases where all the parties were negligent, not...intentionally homicidal.

knoxgirl said...

depressing.

JBlog said...

I suspect the jury was viewing what happened in 1993 through the lens of what we know today.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

And yes, I know there was a 1985 study that said security for the parking garage was inadequate. I'm say most people could not have imagined a terrorist attack on the WTC before 1993, even in the face of a report like that.

Debbie said...

This goes to show how more than just security in parking garages need to be fixed, so does everything else.