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Port Authority not liable in 1993 WTC attack, court

By Dan Wiessner

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey cannot be held liable for failing to prevent a 1993 truck bombing in the World Trade Center's parking garage, New York's highest court ruled on Thursday.

The state Court of Appeals' ruling applies to one plaintiff, Antonio Ruiz, whom a lower court had awarded $824,000, but means others cannot sue the Port Authority, which may now use the decision to seek the dismissal of other claims.

The February 1993 bombing killed six people and injured close to 1,000. Six men were convicted including Ramzi Yousef, who was tied to al Qaeda. More than 600 people filed 174 lawsuits after the bombing but most claims have been settled.

The question before the Court of Appeals was whether the Port Authority, which operated the buildings, was acting as a government agency or a private landlord on issues related to the security of the building. State law provides immunity for government agencies in most negligence cases.

In Wednesday's 4-3 ruling, which reversed lower court decisions, the majority argued that security for the World Trade Center was akin to a public police force.

"Police protection is a quintessential example of a governmental function," Judge Theodore Jones wrote in the ruling.

Lower courts had ruled that the Port Authority acted as a private landlord because the World Trade Center was largely a commercial complex. In her dissent, Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick agreed with that position.

"The Port Authority's security decisions regarding the garage were made by civilian managers, not law enforcement or security authorities, and stemmed from commercial concerns," Ciparick wrote.

Richard Rothman, lawyer for the Port Authority, declined comment on the ruling but the authority said in statement, "Today's ruling brings us closer to a final resolution of this emotional process."

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Victor Kovner, said he was "deeply disappointed" in Thursday's ruling.

"Any private landlord at a shopping mall or private office would close the garage to public parking, as (the Port Authority's) own security consultants warned them repeatedly to do," Kovner said.

(Reporting by Dan Wiessner; Editing by Bill Trott)