NEW YORK (CN) - The former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency cannot be held personally liable for telling residents and workers near ground zero that they could safely breathe the air after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
The court dismissed a lawsuit accusing the EPA and former chief Christine Todd Whitman of violating their due-process rights by disseminating inaccurate, potentially dangerous information to workers and residents of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Defendants falsely stated that the air quality was safe enough for the plaintiffs to return to their homes, schools and offices, the lawsuit stated.
Plaintiffs anchored their claims in a state-created danger theory of liability, claiming defendants should be held responsible for publicly stating that the disaster area was environmentally safe, when "those assurances turned out to be substantially exaggerated."
Thousands of rescue workers and volunteers have since filed class actions over the respiratory problems and other health damage they suffered from breathing the dust and debris from the twin towers' collapse.
The circuit judges said the case boiled down to a "mass tort for making false statements," but that Whitman cannot be held liable for statements that were based on conflicting health reports and competing considerations.
Judge Newman, writing for the unanimous panel, said that the agency undoubtedly made some mistakes in the wake of Sept. 11, but reminded the plaintiffs that "legal remedies are not always available for every instance of arguably deficient governmental performance."