MANHATTAN (CN) - Blaming the collapse of 7 World Trade Center on an "unprecedented constellation of events," the 2nd Circuit on Wednesday chucked negligence claims against the building's landlords and developers.
The collapse of the North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001, sent fiery debris into Tower 7, lighting fires that burned for seven hours on multiple floors until it destroyed that building and crushed the Con Edison substation located directly underneath the building.
In 2004, Con Edison sued New York City, the Port Authority, and Tower 7's owners and developers in Manhattan for negligence. The federal action has since gone through multiple rounds of appeals, amended complaints and procedural challenges by different groups of defendants.
Claimed that a properly designed Tower 7 would have been able to withstand the fires without collapsing, the utility company submitted expert testimony by professors of structural engineering and fire prevention.
Days after the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed claims against 7 World Trade Center Co., Silverstein Development Corp. and Silverstein Properties.
The judge had tossed claims against Tishman Construction Corp. and the Office of Irwin G. Cantor in 2006.
Hellerstein's order from Sept. 23, 2011, found that the defendants could not have anticipated "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."
"Nothing in common experience or 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," he wrote.
Affirming that dismissal Wednesday, a divided three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit found that Judge Hellerstein applied the wrong standard.
"New York law makes plain that Con Ed need not show 7WTCo. foresaw the precise risk of terrorists hijacking planes and flying them into Towers One and Two, setting off the chain of events leading to 7WTC's collapse," Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote for the majority.
Nevertheless, Con Edison failed to "establish, beyond the point of speculation and conjecture, a factual, causal connection" between the design of Tower 7 and its collapse, she added.
"It is simply incompatible with common sense and experience to hold that defendants were required to design and construct a building that would survive the events of September 11, 2001," the majority opinion concludes.
Judge Richard Wesley argued in dissent that such conclusions must be made at trial.
"It may well be that causation, be it proximate or in fact, can be decided as a matter of law in the district court after a careful review of all expert submissions or that a trial will result in a defendants' verdict, but that is not the path the majority has chosen for this case," Wesley wrote.
Attorneys for the parties have not yet returned requests for comment.
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