BINDER EXPLAINS JUDGE HELLERSTEIN'S
MOTION TO DISMISS RULING IN SIMPLE ENGLISH

Perry Binder, JD


 

The 9-11 civil litigation is such an emotionally charged case that I cannot even begin to comprehend the family members' pain and suffering.

There are so many defendants and claims against them in this case, but the issues really come down to questions of negligence.  Was it careless to allow passengers on board the airplanes with box cutters?  Were the cockpit doors negligently designed?  Was the evacuation procedure of the WTC's faulty?

A plaintiff must prove four elements in a cause of action for negligence.

I.  Did the plaintiffs suffer "damages?"  Of course, the answer is YES.

II.  Do the defendants owe a duty of care or safety to the plaintiffs?  Judge Hellerstein just ruled YES on September 9, 2003.  That's what his 49 page ruling was all about.  But there are two other hurdles for plaintiffs to prove negligence in this case...

III.  Did the defendants "breach their duty" to the plaintiffs?  For this issue, we then ask:  Was the defendants' conduct "reasonable?"  This is a question of fact that plaintiffs are hoping to ask a jury.

IV.  If the answer to III. above is yes, was that breach the "proximate cause" of plaintiffs' damages?  Asked a different way, were the events of 9-11 "foreseeable" to the defendants, or were the terrorist acts an "intervening event?"

After further "discovery" (the opportunity for the parties to freely request information from each other*)  in this case, I believe that the defendants will ask the court to rule on these issues prior to trial, on a motion for summary judgment.  In this request, they will try to convince the judge that there are no important facts in dispute, so the judge should enter judgment for them as a matter of law.

If the judge rules for the defendants on a summary judgment motion, this case will not go to trial.

It is possible for the judge to rule for some defendants (e.g., some of the aviation defendants or the ground defendants) and not others on this motion.  In that event, some defendants will be dismissed from the case, while the remaining defendants would face the plaintiffs at trial.

It is unclear how much information will be withheld from the plaintiffs by the government in "the interest of national security"