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United Airlines Held Not Liable in Trade Center Attack

United Air Lines isn’t liable for the plane hijacking in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center’s Tower 7, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan today granted a motion by the carrier for a judgment without a trial saying it wasn’t responsible for the tower’s destruction. He dismissed the airline from the case.

World Trade Center Properties LLC sued United Continental Holdings Inc., American Airlines Inc. and others in 2008, claiming their negligence caused the tower’s collapse. United “had a legal duty and a clear chance to prevent the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11” when two hijackers passed through a Portland, Maine, security checkpoint for which United shared responsibility, the plaintiff said in court papers.

“United had no connection to Flight 11 or its hijackers,” the judge wrote.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari arrived at Portland’s airport, passed through its security checkpoint, flew to Boston’s Logan International Airport, where they passed through two more checkpoints --neither operated by United, the court said -- and boarded Flight 11 to Los Angeles.

They hijacked the plane and crashed it into 1 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. When that tower fell, debris spewed into the façade of Tower 7 causing fires and eventually its collapse, according to court papers.

Silverstein Reaction

A spokesman for Silverstein Properties said the company is proceeding with a separate suit against United over the second plane that was flown into the trade center.

“While we are disappointed by the judge’s ruling, his decision was limited to the narrow issue of whether United shared liability for the security lapses that led to the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11,” Bud Perrone, a spokesman for Silverstein Properties, said in an e-mailed statement. “The main claim against United, for its security lapses leading to the terrorists crashing United Flight 175 into the World Trade Center, is proceeding.”

World Trade Center Properties is an affiliate of Silverstein Properties, which is developing towers at the site.

Perrone said the plaintiffs look forward to persuading a jury to force the defendants’ insurance companies to “pay up in order to finish the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.”

Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based United, said the company declines to comment on the ruling.

2010 Merger

United became United Continental Holdings in a 2010 merger with Continental Airlines Inc.

Other defendants in the case include Delta Air Lines Inc., Massachusetts Port Authority, the Boeing Co., US Airways Group Inc., Midway Airlines Inc. and Pinkerton’s Inc.

The defendants also moved for summary judgment on the basis that World Trade Center Properties was “fully compensated” for the collapse by insurance. Hellerstein did not rule on that motion today.

The case is World Trade Center Properties v. American Airlines, 08-3722, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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