New York Judge Tosses 7 WTC Suits

By LARRY NEUMEISTER | September 26, 2011

In tossing out a negligence lawsuit, a judge on Friday cited the “strange, improbable” events that destroyed a 47-story World Trade Center building a decade ago on Sept. 11, several hours after the 110-story twin towers fell.

The claims by the Consolidated Edison Co. of New York were “too farfetched and tenuous” to survive, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said.

The company had sued Citigroup Inc. and a company owned by developer Larry Silverstein for damages, saying negligence occurred when World Trade Center Tower 7’s commercial tenants were allowed to install diesel-fueled-backup generators that provided fuel that burned for hours after hijacked planes struck two nearby towers on the 16-acre development.

Tower 7 fell at 5:21 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, nearly seven hours after the other buildings collapsed. A Con Edison power station beneath Tower 7 was crushed when the building fell.

A message for comment left with Con Edison was not immediately returned.

“Con Edison, in order to succeed, must overcome the improbability of a long chain of events, one acting upon another,” Hellerstein wrote. “I hold that the chain was much too improbable.”

Silverstein’s company, 7WTCo., and Citigroup had argued that the events of Sept. 11 were unforeseeable and had caused the harm to the substation.

Construction of Tower 7 was completed in 1987. The diesel generator was installed in the building’s fifth floor after Salomon Brothers, which was acquired by Citigroup, received permission to install two diesel tanks with a capacity to store 6,000 gallons of fuel that attached to the generator through pressurized fuel lines. Salomon Brothers had said it needed the generator to power an around-the-clock trading floor.

Con Edison had maintained that fuel from the diesel tanks heightened the intensity of a fire that began when debris from the destruction of the other towers entered the building.

Hellerstein said it was not reasonable for Silverstein and Citigroup to foresee the “strange, improbable, and attenuated chain of events that led to 7 World Trade Center’s collapse and the crushing of Con Edison’s substation.”

He added: “Nothing in common experience of history could give rise to a reasonably foreseeable risk relating to the chain of events flowing from the terrorists and their hijackings to the destruction of the Con Edison substation.”

The judge said it was well established in New York law that a landlord or controller of a premises has no duty to protect tenants from unprecedented criminal acts of others.

Earlier this week, Silverstein announced that the new 52-story 7 World Trade Center, completed in 2006, is fully leased.

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