First World Trade Center Bombing: Terrorists 32% to Blame

The New York Times reports:

In what some legal experts characterized as a startling footnote to history, the jury found that the Port Authority was 68 percent at fault for allowing the bombing to occur, while the terrorists who carried out the bombing were 32 percent responsible.

“It’s really hard to get your mind around,” said Mark Geistfeld, a law professor at New York University. “It’s more of a sociological question than it is a legal question. It’s their way of expressing their outrage about the way in which the Port Authority conducted itself.”

The same verdict, Mr. Geistfeld said, might not have been possible 12 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the 1993 attack, when Americans were less attuned to the reality of terrorism, and the twin towers were still standing.

In practice, any apportionment of fault of 51 percent or more has the same outcome – making the defendant liable for 100 percent of damages that may be awarded in connection with the 1993 bombing.

Stephen Gillers, another NYU law professor, compared the verdict to a landlord-tenant case in which a tenant was mugged in a dark elevator. “From a moral perspective, you’re going to blame the mugger,” he said. “From a legal perspective, the law says, Is there anything the landlord could have done to prevent this?”

The lawyers said that the jurors, motivated by understandable sympathy for the victims, might have been doing all they could to ensure that someone would pay. And certainly the terrorists, who have been convicted and are serving prison terms, would not be the ones to do so.

But the way fault was determined seemed likely to figure in any appeal.