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American Airlines can claim 9/11 was ‘act of war’

A New York court has refused an application to dismiss American Airlines' claim that the 11 September 2001 attacks were an "act of war" on the US.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein said last week that the airline's "act of war" defence - which would curb its liability for the collapse of the first World Trade Center tower - would be ruled on at a later date.

Silverstein Properties, which leased the Twin Towers, had asked the judge to throw out the claim after it alleged that the airline and its insurers had previously vowed not to invoke the defence.

Silverstein also accused American Airlines of negligence with respect to the attack.

But the airline said in a filing on 5 March that it had "timely, consistently and vigorously" asserted that 9/11 was an act of war.

The defendant said it believed that al Qaeda "had declared holy war against this country and its people".

It said that terrorists had turned "seized aircraft into bombs aimed at civilian targets as acts of war against the United States".

Silverstein Properties had produced a series of documents that showed that insurers had no intention of raising the act of war defence when settling claims with the leaseholder.

But the airline claimed that its policy covered acts of war and that its insurers could not waive an act of war exclusion.

It claimed that the documents contained "hearsay statements" from insurance representatives, none of which related to American Airlines' possible liability defences or its insurance policy.

Silverstein Properties also alleged that the aviation firm had led Congress to believe that its insurers would not invoke the act of war defence.

Congress subsequently passed the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilisation Act, which capped airlines' exposure to tort claims.

The plaintiff accused the airline of "pocketing taxpayers' money" and then "changing their story" by asserting that 9/11 was an act of war and further limiting their liabilities.

The leaseholder alleged that if Congressmen had been aware of the defendants' intent to invoke the exclusion, the law may not have been passed.

The defendants argued that the act left all defences open to the airline, including the act of war defence.

It also said that the law was designed not for plaintiffs like the World Trade Center, but as a cap on airlines' liabilities.

The judge said it would be premature to rule on the matter before it was presented in trial.

He also refused to rule on whether American Airlines was liable for damage to 7 World Trade Center, a building nearby, saying it was not for him to decide.

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