14 September 2007

Friday Headache Maker

Okay, follow along:

(T)rial lawyers, thanks to New York Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Figueroa's generous rulings and jury instructions, persuaded a jury in October 2006 that the terrorists who planted a truck bomb in the World Trade Center garage in 1993 were only 32 percent responsible, while the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was 68 percent responsible--and therefore, under New York law, wholly on the hook for $1.8 billion in damages.

After 9/11, lawsuits would have bankrupted several corporate victims of the attacks were it not for a $7 billion, taxpayer-funded payout to potential plaintiffs. Even so, several dozen claimants opted for litigation. Naturally, their lawyers have sued everyone from the airlines to Boeing to Motorola to New York City. Attorneys are asking for billions of dollars in damages, and the first of these cases will go to trial on September 24. Banks have not been immune from terrorist-related lawsuits, either. They are being hauled into court because of who has accounts at their institutions.


One can debate the appropriate role for each of the three branches in the post-9/11 world in coordinating domestic and foreign policy in responding to terrorism. But one matter should be beyond debate. Individual litigants in individual cases should not be able to use the combination of civil liability rules and the power of the civil courts to interfere with larger national policy. Congress can disagree with the executive branch, but should do so through legislation, rather than abdicating its responsibilities to trial-lawyer proxies. Civil liability is a poor tool for deterring suicide bombers, and civil anti-terrorism laws are bound to have their greatest effect when used against innocent parties.

This is the kind of stuff that should make you feel guilty for watching CNN and thinking it's a news outlet.

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