NEW YORK – A jury ruled Wednesday that the Port Authority was negligent in the bombing of the World Trade Center (search) in 1993 — a long-awaited legal victory for victims of an attack that killed six people and injured 1,000 eight years before terrorists brought down the center's twin towers.
The jury ruled that the Port Authority (search), the agency that owned the World Trade Center, was negligent by not properly maintaining the parking garage where terrorists detonated more than a half-ton of explosives in a rented van.
The jury deliberated about nine hours over two days to reach its verdict after a four-week civil trial. Several separate trials will now be held to determine financial damages for some 400 individuals.
The trial cast the spotlight on an attack that was overshadowed after Sept. 11, but was horrific nonetheless. The noontime blast blew a gigantic crater in the garage, filled the building with smoke, wrecked the towers' power and emergency systems, and spread fear across New York.
The agency vowed to appeal the verdict. "The Port Authority is confident it will prevail," lawyer Marc Kasowitz said.
Eileen Olsen of Hyattsville, Md., sister of a plaintiff who died before the case came to trial, was in court to hear the verdict. "I think it's great," she said. "They (the jurors) felt as we did: The Port Authority did not fulfill its responsibility, its duty to keep them (the victims) safe."
Jurors said they were swayed by a 1985 report written by the Port Authority's own security officials, who warned the 400-slot garage was a likely attack site. Plaintiff lawyers cited the report as proof that the Port Authority could have protected the building long before the attack, but did not want to because it was inconvenient and would have cost too much.
"They should have closed the garage," lead plaintiff lawyer David J. Dean said after the verdict. "Lives would have been saved, and 1,000 people would not have been hurt."
Juror Ray Gonzalez said the 1985 report was "very prominent" in deliberations. He said the Port Authority "dropped the ball. No one took (the report) seriously."
The jury determined that the agency was 68 percent liable for the bombing — a ruling that Kasowitz found stunning.
"To hold the Port Authority twice as liable as the terrorists for the 1993 bombing stands logic, rationality, and reason on their heads," he said.
Kasowitz said during the trial that it was "offensive" to suggest the agency chose profits over safety. He said 3,000 of the Port Authority's own employees, which the agency considered "family," worked at the site in 1993.
And he said nothing would have deterred resourceful terrorists — obsessed with bombing a building that was an icon of capitalism — from finding a way to unleash an attack.
During the trial, state Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Figueroa ordered lawyers to avoid mention of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack because it was irrelevant to the 1993 bombing.
Six people were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in criminal court for their roles in the bombing. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef (search), the reputed mastermind, said at sentencing: "Yes, I am a terrorist and I am proud of it."