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As the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund begins to dole out $5 billion to more than 7,000 people who were killed or injured in the 2001 terrorist attacks, a state judge ruled Thursday that those who endured the first attack on the World Trade Center — 11 years ago — have a right to sue the Port Authority for negligence. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Stanley Sklar rejected the claim by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing was not foreseeable, saying the argument “strained credulity.” The Port Authority, according to the opinion, received extensive warnings from an internal panel, as well as outside experts, about the ease with which a vehicle could be packed with explosives, parked in the public garage and detonated. But the agency did not implement the security tactics the experts recommended before such a plot unfolded. Sklar also found that the Port Authority was not entitled to immunity from lawsuits because it was acting as a landlord, not a government entity, when the bombing occurred. The explosion, which had the force of 1,500 pounds of dynamite and made a crater six-stories deep, killed six people and injured dozens more. “The law does not permit, as the Port Authority appears to claim, a landlord one free catastrophic event,” Sklar wrote in a 43-page opinion, In re World Trade Center Bombing Litigation, 600000/94. This was particularly true, the judge said, since “the Port Authority was aware of the threat of terrorism, was aware that the WTC was a potential target, and was specifically warned by its own experts, as well as by other terrorist experts, of exactly the type of attack that occurred in 1993.” Victor A. Kovner of Davis Wright Tremaine, who is the lead counsel for the steering committee representing between 100 and 200 remaining plaintiffs, said the long-awaited ruling came after numerous drawn-out battles with the Port Authority over whether the agency’s internal security reports were discoverable. The consolidated lawsuits, with claims ranging from personal injury to business interruption, have already reached the Court of Appeals on pretrial matters, and could soon come before a jury “this year, God willing,” Kovner said. Port Authority spokesman Dan Maynard said the agency disagreed with the judge’s ruling and was considering its options, including an appeal. If the ruling stands and the case goes to trial, it will be tried in two parts: the first on liability, and the second on damages. The plaintiffs are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Sklar’s ruling revealed that the Port Authority studied the security weaknesses of the World Trade Center long before the attack, but failed to act on advice given by several experts. In 1984, the agency created an Office of Special Planning (OSP) to assess the possibility of terrorist acts. The OSP issued an internal report in 1985 that described the World Trade Center as an attractive terrorist target, and noted that car bombs were becoming the weapon of choice among terrorists. In particular, the report singled out the underground garage as a security risk, and went on to predict with eerie precision how the building could be attacked with a truck bomb detonated after terrorists had already left the building. PARKING AREA NOT STAFFED The report recommended that the Port Authority eliminate all public parking in the World Trade Center, but the step was not taken because it would be inconvenient for tenants and result in a loss of revenue, according to an internal Port Authority letter cited in Justice Sklar’s opinion. The agency also declined to staff the public parking area, saying it was too expensive and would not deter terrorists. The Port Authority later sought a second opinion on the OSP report from an outside agency, Science Applications International Corporation. The company also warned of bomb threats and recommended security improvements, but the Port Authority took no action. Another security consultant was hired in 1991, and the Port Authority also received an intelligence report from the FBI in January 1993, a month before the bombing. The report warned of a threat to blow up a major building in New York. The agency increased security at the World Trade Center for the weekend, but then scaled it back. “The Port Authority’s duty is defined by what risks or dangers were and should reasonably have been anticipated � from having a high profile building, with a public parking garage under it, which permitted ‘unvetted’ vehicles to enter and exit without encountering any barriers or surveillance,” Sklar said. “The Port Authority clearly perceived a risk since it created the OSP, and sought a report from it, and other outside consultants, regarding the risk of a terrorist attack on the [World Trade Center], and seeking recommendations for security measures to protect against the risk.”

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