By Mark Hamblett
NEW YORK CITY-A federal judge has dismissed negligence claims by utility company Con Edison over the destruction of the original 7 World Trade Center on 9/11. Southern District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, in In re September 11 Litigation, said the chain of events that led to the destruction of 7 World Trade was “much too improbable to be consistent with any duty” toward Con Edison by builder and developer Larry Silverstein and Citigroup, the successor-in-interest to the building’s primary tenant, Salomon Brothers.
The building caught fire from flaming debris after planes hijacked by terrorists slammed into the twin towers. The 47-story 7 World Trade collapsed at 5:21 p.m., destroying a Con Edison substation.
Two counts charged Silverstein’s 7WTCo. with negligence in the design and construction of the building and for permitting commercial tenants to install diesel-fueled backup generators. Two counts against Citigroup claimed an unreasonably dangerous design that incorporated “an unreasonable amount of diesel fuel” in two 6,000-gallon tanks. With so many firefighters dead from the collapse of the towers next door, and the water system destroyed, there was no way to stop the fire, which was made worse when the diesel tanks inside the building exploded.
Judge Hellerstein quoted the famous 1928 ruling of Palsgraf vs. Long Island R.R. Co., where the New York Court of Appeals dismissed a negligence claim based on a sequence of events in which train guards allegedly pushed a man carrying a package of fireworks onto a train, he dropped the package and the fireworks exploded, causing a set of scales at the other end of the platform to fall over, strike and allegedly injure a passenger. The Palsgraf court said the “risk reasonably to be perceived defines the duty to be obeyed, and risk imports relation; it is risk to another or to others within the range of apprehension.”
Judge Hellerstein said, “It was not within 7WTCo.’s, or Citigroup’s, ‘range of apprehension’ that terrorists would slip through airport security, hijack an airplane, crash it suicidally into one of the two tallest skyscrapers in New York City, set off falling debris that would ignite a building several hundred feet away, cause structural damage to it, destroy water mains causing an internal sprinkler system to become inoperable, kill 343 firemen and paralyze the rest so that a fire within a building would not be put out and the building would be allowed to burn an entire day before it consumed itself and collapsed.”
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