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Judge gives go-ahead for 9/11 lawsuits

Ground Zero on November 8, 2001
Ground Zero on November 8, 2001

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A U.S. judge has ruled that 70 lawsuits arising from the September 11 attacks can proceed.

The suits were filed against American Airlines, United Airlines, Boeing, and the owners of the World Trade Center, claiming negligence from all parties played a large part in the deaths and injuries caused by the attacks two years ago.

U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein based his 49-page decision on the cases of "approximately 70 of the injured and representatives of those who died," according to the ruling.

Attorney James Kriendler, who represents several plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits against American Airlines, United Airlines, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, called the ruling a victory.

"Judge Hellerstein did the right thing," Kriendler told CNN.

"I think it is absurd to say as a matter of law that the airlines and port authority owe no legal responsibility to the people who died in the towers."

The ruling could pave the way for a flood of lawsuits by families of September 11 victims who have not yet filed claims with the Victim Compensation Fund.

Anyone filing claims with the fund must waive their right to sue or withdraw any pending suits. The deadline for filing claims is December 22.

The airlines, Boeing, and the Port Authority had argued that they "could not reasonably have anticipated that terrorists would hijack several jumbo jet airplanes and crash them, killing passengers, crew, thousands on the ground and themselves," Hellerstein wrote in the ruling.

A Port Authority spokesman said the responsibility lies with "the murderers who led the attacks."

"Our hearts go out to all the families of the heroes of 9-11, including our own port authority family members," Steve Coleman said.

Both American Airlines and United Airlines said they will appeal the decision.

"September 11th was an unbelievably tragic day in our nation's history," said Todd Burke, a spokesman for American Airlines, in a written statement.

"We continue to believe that we are not liable for the events that occurred that day. In recognition of that, Congress passed legislation immediately after the terrorist attacks to compensate the victims.

"We believe that is the fairest, most efficient method for compensating these individuals. We are therefore disappointed in this ruling."

United Airlines also expressed disappointment.

"While United Airlines does not believe that it was our legal responsibility to protect the ground victims from those attacks, that does not leave the families of those who lost their lives that day without a remedy.

Those families can make claims for compensation from the Victim's Compensation Fund," the airline said in a written statement.


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