Developer can't recover World Trade Center damages from airlines

In this June 20, 2003 file photo, Larry Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties and lease holder on the World Trade Center, discusses the rebuilding of the trade center during the 23rd annual BulidingsNY Show in New York.  Develope
In this June 20, 2003 file photo, Larry Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties and lease holder on the World Trade Center, discusses the rebuilding of the trade center during the 23rd annual BulidingsNY Show in New York.  Developer Larry Silverstein cannot recover billions of dollars from airlines over the Sept 11, 2001, destruction of the World Trade Center in New York because insurers have already compensated his company, a federal judge ruled on Thursday. -- PHOTO: AP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Developer Larry Silverstein cannot recover billions of dollars from airlines over the Sept 11, 2001, destruction of the World Trade Center in New York because insurers have already compensated his company, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

United States (US) District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said Mr Silverstein's company has recovered more than US$4 billion (S$5 billion) from its insurers.

Mr Silverstein, 82, had sought to pursue damages at a trial from United Airlines and American Airlines, whose planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

"If this case were to go forward," Mr Hellerstein said to a packed courtroom, Mr Silverstein "would not be able to recover anything against the airlines."

Mr Silverstein's World Trade Center Properties was seeking to recover as much as US$3.5 billion from the airlines, including United Airlines, now United Continental Holdings Inc, and American Airlines and its parent, AMR Corp, which he accused of negligence in the attacks.

"We did not believe that the plaintiff could be permitted any further compensation and we are pleased the judge ruled in our favour," Ms Christen David, a spokesman for United, said after the ruling.

"We are gratified by the judge's decision," said American Airlines spokesman Mike Trevino.

Mr Hellerstein's ruling concluded a four-day trial in federal court in New York that tasked him with deciding, without a jury, if Mr Silverstein's insurance recoveries precluded him from seeking damages from the airlines.

"My holding is that they do," Mr Hellerstein said on Thursday.

Mr Rich Williamson, a lawyer representing Mr Silverstein's company, said after the hearing that the company planned to appeal the decision to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We will not rest until we have exhausted every option to assure that the aviation industry's insurers pay their fair share toward the complete rebuilding of the World Trade Center," Mr Silverstein said in a later statement.

Mr Hellerstein, a Bronx native who has presided over a several cases related to the attacks, commended Mr Silverstein for his efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center.

"I look upon this as an American story, rising out of the ashes of destruction," he said of the rebuilding effort.

In January, Mr Hellerstein will hear a trial pitting Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees in the attacks, against American Airlines. The financial services firm sued the airline over lost business and the destruction of its offices in the World Trade Center.