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World Trade Center developer seeks billions in 9/11 damages from airlines

Two steel "tridents" recovered from the World Trade Center site after September 11, 2001, stand in the entry pavilion area of the 911 Memorial Museum, currently under construction, at the World Trade Center site in New York, July 2, 2013.Mike Segar / Reuters file

A federal judge in New York heard initial arguments Monday in a trial in which the developer of the World Trade Center argues that he should get billions of dollars from the airlines whose jets plowed into the Twin Towers almost 12 years ago.

New York developer Larry Silverstein's company, World Trade Center Properties, which is still paying on a 99-year lease on the destroyed towers, has already collected more than $4 billion in insurance from the destruction of the iconic site on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Now he's seeking billions more from United and American airlines, Boeing Co. and several other aviation and security companies. 

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein — who's in charge of most of the hundreds of 9/11-related cases — said he would rule after closing arguments Wednesday in the non-jury trial.

The legal issue in the trial — which has been on the docket since April 2008 — is whether the insurance money Silverstein has already collected should offset the damages he says the airlines owe him.

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The airlines say letting him collect damages from them in addition to insurance would amount to double dipping, and they argue that Silverstein has already collected enough money to rebuild the Trade Center better than before. Silverstein contends that those are unrelated issues and says his expenses to rebuild the site have far outweighed what he's collected in insurance.

If Hellerstein sides with Silverstein, the next step could be a full liability trial — one that could put the entire pre-9/11 U.S. aviation system back under a microscope.

Silverstein's suit claims that Boeing was liable in designing the jets; that the security systems at Boston's Logan Airport (where United Flight 175 originated) and at the Portland, Maine, airport (where American Flight 11 originated) were liable for failing to intercept the hijackers on 9/11; and that the airlines were liable for failing to protect passengers and property after the hijackers took over.

The judge has previously ruled that if Silverstein eventually wins such a trial, the most he could get is an extra $3.5 billion.

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