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A flood of lawsuits charging the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey with negligent construction and maintenance of the World Trade Center were filed Tuesday on behalf of the families of victims who died in the terror attacks a year ago today. Meeting a one-year deadline for filing suit against the Port Authority, lawyers, interns and paralegals rushed to the clerk’s office at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where clerks scrambled to process the complaints and give instructions to those waiting on line. The scene was part of the fallout from a decision last week by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York, who denied the requests of attorneys seeking an extension of the one-year statute of limitations. The suits are being brought in the Southern District pursuant to the Air Transportation Safety and Systems Stabilization Act, which grants exclusive jurisdiction to the district for any claims “resulting from or related to the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001.” While some actions were filed on behalf of individual plaintiffs, several named dozens of families, a few naming more than 100 claimants, and one complaint was made on behalf of 731 people who lost family members or who were injured in the attacks. Frank Granito of New York-based Speiser, Krause, Nolan & Granito, which filed suit for families of 81 people who perished on Sept. 11, called the filings “purely protective” because of the deadline and uncertainty over the federal Victim Compensation Fund. “There has got to be a good reason to go outside the Victim Compensation Fund but many cases are being forced outside the fund because of the way” the awards are being calculated, he said. “If your award from the fund is going to be a fraction of what you could get in civil litigation because of offsets for life insurance, then many people stand to recover only cents on the dollar.” In addition to the offsetting of life insurance recoveries, Granito also said the wave of civil litigation is being prompted by a “completely arbitrary view of economic damages” in the standards established for distributions under the fund. In another action filed Tuesday, the Port Authority was sued by Con Edison and its insurers for $314 million for the destruction of a Con Edison substation at 7 World Trade Center. The substation was built at Washington and Barclay streets in 1970 to provide electricity to the World Trade Center and the surrounding area. In 1983, 7 World Trade Center was built on top of and adjacent to the substation and in 1999 New York City constructed its emergency “command bunker” on the 23rd floor of the building. To accommodate a potential shortage of fuel and a loss of power, and to keep the command bunker running in an emergency, a series of diesel fuel tanks and electricity generators were installed in the building. The collapse of the south and north towers of the World Trade Center within 29 minutes of one another triggered a fire at 7 World Trade Center and the explosion of the diesel tanks, which plaintiffs charge was the reason the building collapsed on Sept. 11. The suit alleges that Con Edison’s substation as well as its equipment and other facilities on site would have sustained merely “minor damage” had the Port Authority chosen to adhere to fire codes. Simply locating the diesel tanks in the building was negligent, the suit charges, adding that the tanks were also improperly located and constructed. The lawsuit, filed by Ganet, Kallmann, Antin & Robinson, also charges that “the Port Authority did not apply, interpret and enforce safe engineering practices and standards commonly known and utilized in high-rise office buildings throughout the City and State of New York.” The individual wrongful-death actions filed by Speiser Krause and other firms follow filing of notice of intent to sue the Port Authority by more than 1,000 families. FAMILIES’ ACTION Several lawyers representing some of those families had argued that the one-year period to sue the Port Authority was too brief given the trauma caused by the attacks. In his decision last week, Judge Hellerstein also addressed another concern of the plaintiffs’ lawyers: that the commencement of civil litigation would jeopardize their clients’ eligibility for recovery from the Victim Compensation Fund. Hellerstein said families who sue the Port Authority could still opt to be compensated by the fund at a later date should they elect to drop their lawsuit. “Judge Hellerstein said the Port Authority doesn’t even have to answer these claims until next year,” Granito said. “In effect, the suits are being held in abeyance to give families the opportunity to weigh their options.” Another multibillion-dollar lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the Southern District against alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The suit charges that Hussein actively provided support for the attacks. Additional suits filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court charged negligence by the Massachusetts Port Authority and Metropolitan Washington Airport. A handful of suits prompted by the attacks have been filed this year in the Southern District against United Airlines and American Airlines, operators of the two planes that crashed into the towers, as well as other airlines based on their joint responsibility for airport security. More suits against the airlines were filed Tuesday.

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