Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Other Enemy in the War on Terror

(Preface: Before I begin, I just wanted to say that it is good to be back in the good ole U.S. of A. I did promise everyone a post about my travels in Japan (with the requisite TPS flair), and it is forthcoming, but it may take me a couple of days. For now, here is some current events fodder.)

Question: What is the difference between Islamo-fascists and trial lawyers?

Answer: The former at least have the decency to blow themselves up.

If you are wondering why such invective is directed at the likes of deep-pocket-sucking civil litigators, I encourage to read this story about yesterday's conclusion of a civil lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York, the public-private hybrid entity that has owned the World Trade Center site since its construction in the late 1960s. A jury panel yesterday determined that the Port Authority -- not Osama Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda mastermind; not even Ramzi Yousef, the man actually convicted of carrying out the terrorist attack -- was 68% responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which caused significant damage to the WTC's underground parking lot, killed six people (seven, if you count the unborn child being carried by one of the deceased), and gave New Yorkers a preview of what was to come.

If you dig around a little, you find that the basis for the jury's finding has to do with their apportionment of blame. Here is a passage from ABC News' account of the verdict:

The jury ruled that the Port Authority, 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.

. . .

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." [Edit: I wonder if this bonehead attorney would have favored
shutting down the entire WTC complex in order to stave off the September 11
attacks.]

Okay . . . so let me get this straight. Because the Port Authority operated an underground parking garage in a large facility in a Western nation despised by followers of Islam, and did not cease and desist all operations because of the then-remote threat of terrorism, they are to be held mostly responsible for the damages caused.

Having gone to law school, I know that civil litigators invariably look for deep pockets. No one is going to sue Ramzi Yousef for damages -- probably the only currency he has on hand right now are cigarettes and chewing gum. This result, however, is nevertheless preposterous for several reasons, not the least of which is that there are American attorneys out there who are essentially functioning as the U.S.-based Litigation Division of Al Qaeda by hitting institutions that have already been struck by terrorism a second time, this time with a bill.

The insanity of this individual decision aside, what seems most problematic about this decision is that it sets a horrible precedent, whereby people or companies, or even governmental bodies, must prepare themselves for multi-billion-dollar lawsuits in the wake of devastating attacks.

Quick solution: the federal government should immediately pass legislation immunizing entities that are victims of terrorist attacks from subsequent civil lawsuit, except perhaps in situations where gross negligence is involved.

Pray for reversal.

P.S. I will make some hasty (and good-natured) predictions about how some of our fellow webloggers will respond to this post:

- Mouldfan will start talking about the minutiae of civil suits to distract from the larger issue,
saying something about apportionment of blame, and then saying something along the lines of, "Is that necessarily the decision I would have come to, no, but the system is designed to permit people to pursue their economic interests, and I don't think we should infringe upon that."

- Repeal22 will start by talking about Karl Rove, then work his way into a discussion of the evil Christian Right.

- ReverseCurse will use a large number of four-letter words and then close out with a very poignant comment about the geopolitical ramifications of civil litigation and our broad-based approach to it in the coming decade.

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