Judge Blocks Claims Against Airlines Arising Out of Sept. 11th Attacks

It’s been nearly twelve years since the September 11th attacks, but there is still litigation going on regarding who’s responsible for the billions of dollars in damage inflicted that day. The most recent development comes out of New York, where a Federal Judge dismissed an effort by the owners of the World Trade Center to hold the airlines whose planes were involved in the attacks on the Twin Towers at least partly responsible for what happened that day:

The owners of the World Trade Center can’t demand billions of dollars more in insurance money for the destruction caused by the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge decided Thursday.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled after hearing testimony by economic experts for the trade center owners and for the airlines linked to the planes that were hijacked in the attacks. The non-jury trial was held to decide whether the owners could collect more than the nearly $5 billion they’ve already received toward reconstruction

In ruling against developer Larry Silverstein and World Trade Center Properties, the judge cited state laws that bar “windfalls and double recovery on the same loss.”

The judge said that though he was ruling against the trade center owners, they deserved credit for spearheading the recovery effort at the 16-acre lower Manhattan site.

“You were dealt a very severe blow,” the judge said of the attack, which turned the trade center into an inferno and destroyed the twin towers. Since then, the developer’s workers have labored to “create beauty out the ashes of the destruction,” he added.


During the four-day proceeding, Silverstein’s attorneys had insisted that the aviation companies owed at least $3.5 billion for letting hijackers board planes that destroyed three skyscrapers on Sept. 11, 2001: the prominent twin towers and 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story building that caught fire after debris from one of the jet crashes pierced its facade and collapsed hours later.

In addition to disputing liability, the airlines, or more properly their insurance companies argued that the trade center owners would in effect be receiving a double recovery if they recovered from the airlines once you factored other sources of recovery already received in. Obviously, the Judge found this argument convincing.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Joyner says:

    Didn’t Congress specifically exempt the airlines from these suits as a precondition of accepting the government payoff?

  2. @James Joyner:

    I believe so. My best guess, though, is that this suit fell under some kind of exception to the immunity granted to airlines, which may have only applied to direct lawsuits from survivors and victims families. Since this was essentially a claim for contribution between insurance companies, it may not have been covered by the immunity provisions. Otherwise, I would assume the suit would’ve been dismissed long ago

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Thank god. This whole issue of reparations to victims of the 9-11 attacks has turned into a never-ending lottery situation.