City Wins in Ground Zero Case

By Jarrett Murphy | January 12, 2006

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit charging that the city's Office of Emergency Management helped cause the collapse of Seven World Trade Center on 9-11 by storing diesel fuel for its emergency generators in the 47-story building.

The Port Authority and developer Larry Silverstein are still on the hook in the suit, which was filed by insurers for Con Edison, which had a substation under WTC7 that was severely damaged.

The city Law Department hailed the ruling, which it says is the last property damage claim against the city related to 9-11. A statement from the department says the move by District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein "allows New York City to better plan for events like September 11th without being subject to liability based on hindsight."

WTC7 was the last building to fall on 9-11. No one was killed there. Compared to the twin towers it was a relative nobody among New York skyscrapers, but it has enjoyed posthumous notoriety because of the mystery of why exactly it fell. Thanks to the neat and sudden collapse of the building, WTC7 is central to alternative theories about what happened on 9-11—and particularly to the notion that the buildings in lower Manhattan were brought down by planned demolitions.

Mainstream inquiries also find puzzlement on WTC 7. The national investigation of Ground Zero building collapses has yet to issue its final report on building seven. An earlier study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency punted on trying to explain the collapse definitively. Not struck by planes, WTC7 appears to have collapsed solely because of fire—apparently a first for a steel-framed skyscraper. The diesel fuel was the most likely culprit, even though FEMA said this "best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence." The city's OEM command center used a 6,000-gallon diesel tank; this was one of several in the building. Hellestein's ruling doesn't delve into whether the diesel fuel caused the collapse, or if it was a particularly bright idea to have it there, but finds that the city is immune under a state law, the New York Defense

Emergency Act:
Although there may be some dispute in the record as to the details of how the OEM and generator system were designed and built in their particulars, the undisputed facts are clear: the Mayor decided that the City needed an OEM and command center to facilitate civil defense functions, and City officials, pursuant to that decision, engaged in a series of good faith negotiations and contracts with property holders, architects, engineers and outside consultants to design an effective and self-sufficient command center. Further, there is no allegation that the City acted in bad faith in carrying out its activities related to civil defense.

The Port Authority argued it should be cut out of the suit, partly on the grounds that the decision by FDNY to stop fighting the fire in WTC7 was the reason it collapsed, not the diesel tanks. But while he removed the Port from part of the suit, Hellerstein refused to grant the request in full, saying that putting blame on FDNY or anyone else "is a determination that can emerge only after a full factual record has been developed." Citigroup, whose subsidiary Salomon Brothers had an office and a diesel tank at WTC7, is also still on the hook.

Silverstein is rebuilding WTC7. He just signed his second tenant. So far, a mere 100,000 of the 1.7 million square feet in the new building is spoken for.

The Con Ed insurance suit is far from the only case concerning WTC7 on the docket. Federal courts are still trolling through a bunch of cases concerning Silverstein, his insurance company, the airlines, and others who blame or are blamed for the myriad pains inflicted when Mohammed Atta and company struck their targets.