Silverstein UAL suit

Judge questions WTC blame of United Airlines in September 11 case

A logo is pictured on a wall during a news conference announcing the merger between Continental Airlines and United Airlines in New York, May 3, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Judge questions WTC blame of United Airlines in September 11 case
Posted: Thursday, 18 October 2012 06:55PM
By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday questioned whether United Airlines could be held responsible for suspected airport security lapses that allowed hijackers onto the American Airlines plane that slammed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Thursday's hearing before District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan stems from one of the few remaining lawsuits arising from the hijacked plane attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, and Pennsylvania.

While most of the cases have settled, Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center property, is pursuing negligence claims against United Airlines, now United Continental Holdings Inc, and American Airlines. Silverstein says they should both be held liable for loss of property and business.

Silverstein's World Trade Center Properties is seeking additional damages beyond what he has already received from his own insurer. The hearing on Thursday dealt only with claims over the destruction of 7 World Trade Center, a building just north of the World Trade Center site that also collapsed in the attacks.

Silverstein argues that United is responsible for suspected security failures that resulted in the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11, which slammed into one of the towers.

Those failures, the court heard on Thursday, began very early in the morning of September 11, 2011, when hijackers Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari set out on their trip.

That morning, Atta and al Omari boarded a US Airways flight from Maine's Portland International Jetport to Boston. From Logan International Airport, they connected onto Flight 11, which they commandeered and crashed into the World Trade Center.

Silverstein argues that because United was one of the carriers that operated Portland's only security checkpoint, it is responsible for the screening of all passengers that passed through it, regardless of what flight they are ticketed for.

United "had to be really vigilant when it did the screening," World Trade Center Properties attorney Richard Williamson told the court. "The first line of defense was Portland.... They were just asleep at the switch."

But Hellerstein appeared skeptical.