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.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.
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."