Judge Rules Ground Zero Worker Can Sue City, Port Authority

A cleanup worker employed by Grace Industries who received permanent injuries resulting from his employment at Ground Zero can sue the city of New York for negligence, a federal judge ruled this week.

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected a bid by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to move the case from state to federal court. The Port Authority argued that the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act gave a federal court, the Southern District of New York, jurisdiction over all cases stemming from the September 11 terrorist attack.

The Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act, enacted shortly after the attacks on Sept. 22, 2001, created a federal cause of action for damages "arising out of the hijacking and subsequent crashes" on Sept. 11. The law gave the Southern District jurisdiction over all legal actions "resulting from or relating to the terrorist-related aircraft crashes."

In an article published in today's New York Law Journal, Hellerstein is quoted as saying, "Congress did not intend to oust state court jurisdiction in cases such as this involving injuries common to construction and demolition sites generally, and risks and duties not alleged to be particular to the special conditions caused by the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11."

Christopher Graybill allegedly was injured when a 1,000-pound girder was dropped into his work area from a hydraulic claw machine. Graybill sued, claiming the city of New York and the Port Authority were negligent because they failed to comply with New York Labor Law.

The Port Authority, which was the landlord of the World Trade Center, argued that the Air Safety Act limited the financial liability to the insurance coverage held by an "air carrier, aircraft manufacturer, airport sponsor or person with a property interest in the World Trade Center," ie., the Port Authority. According to the Port Authority, the lawsuit should be handled in federal court because if alls under the act.

"There is no suggestion in the text of the Air Safety Act, or its legislative history, that Congress intended to displace the traditional functioning of state laws and state adjudicatory bodies in this kind of dispute," Hellerstein ruled.

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