During the terrorist attack of the World Trade Center on 9/11, a building located on the northern edge of the World Trade Center site was burned down due to flaming debris from the attack. Firefighters did not have the resources to fight that fire, so they made the decision to allow the building to collapse. The plaintiff’s electrical substation was located underneath the building and was destroyed in the collapse.
A defendant’s negligence must be causally and factually linked to the plaintiff’s injury beyond speculation for the defendant to be held liable.
The defendant’s building 7WTC was located on the northern edge of the World Trade Center site. When the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, the fiery debris destroyed 7WTC. Everyone had been evacuated and the firefighters were suffering from lack of resources (water mains had been severed by the damage) and manpower, so they set up a collapse zone and chose not to fight the fire. 7WTC collapsed after burning for seven hours, and its collapse destroyed an electrical substation underneath the building owned by Consolidated Edison Co. (Con. Ed.).
Is the defendant liable for the destruction of the plaintiff’s electrical substation?
No. The defendant’s conduct was not the proximate cause of the building’s destruction. The district court judgement is affirmed.
Judge Wesley is convinced that the plaintiff established a standard of care—for buildings to withstand fire that cannot be extinguished—and a breach of that standard. He believes that a full trial is necessary to determine all the facts and decide whether proximate cause can be established.
The plaintiff argued that inadequate design and construction of 7WTC caused the building to collapse. While the district court correctly ruled in favor of the defendant, its reasoning for doing so—using the unforeseeability of the 9/11 attack—was incorrect, as foreseeability does not define duty. 7WTC owed the plaintiff a duty, but this does not mean they can be held liable. Without a factual, causal connection between the defendant’s act and the plaintiff’s injury, the defendant cannot be held responsible for that injury. The plaintiff here failed to link the events that occurred on 9/11 to the defendant’s negligence, and thus failed to show proximate cause. It is unreasonable to believe that the defendants would design something to withstand the unprecedented attack that occurred on 9/11.