Judge Rules AIG Liable for World Trade Center Asbestos Claims

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that a unit of American International Group Inc. (AIG) was recently ordered to continue defending against thousands of asbestos-related claims filed by World Trade Center construction workers. The insurance firm attempted to argue that its duty to defend had ended.

The insurer sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2012, claiming its obligation to pay for asbestos claims was exhausted. Port Authority then countersued, claiming AIG is merely trying to avoid its obligations which were solidified in a 1966 contract. Port Authority manages New York and New Jersey’s port and transportation facilities, which included the original construction of the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan.

Other defendants named in the asbestos claims include the aluminum producer Alcoa Inc., Mario & DiBono Plastering Company, and Tishman Realty & Construction Company. Alcoa was contracted during World Trade Center construction to install aluminum curtain walls on the exterior of the towers. Mario & DiBono applied insulation that contained asbestos to the exterior columns and beans in the first 39 floors of one of the World Trade Center towers. Tishman was Port Authority’s contractor and agent.

AIG also attempted to argue that the claims apply to the premises-operations hazard or completed operations hazards sections of the insurance policy, and that in order for plaintiffs to sue they would have to prove their exposure occurred during the policy period or five years thereafter. The insurer claimed the pending World Trade Center injuries occurred after that period, and could therefore not be covered by the premises-operations hazard.

The contentious general liability policy was originally issued to the Port Authority during construction of the Hudson Tubes, in which trains from New Jersey traveled to the World Trade Center station. AIG contends that its policy includes a $10 million per-occurrence limit for World Trade Center asbestos claims, and that it has already paid out more than that to claimants.

The judge in this case, however, tossed AIG’s contentions, forcing the insurer to continue defending Port Authority against the asbestos claims. In the ruling she states that nowhere in the policy does it state that AIG’s responsibilities were terminated upon exhaustion of the $10 million liability limit. Citing precedents by other New York courts, she further stated that AIG should in fact pay for the defense of all underlying claims.

This final ruling stemmed from AIG’s April 2011 decision to defend only those claims that involved injuries at the World Trade Center site and not those related to off-site injuries. The decision also dismisses Tishman Realty from the suit because it never sought coverage under the AIG policy. DiBono and Alcoa remain defendants.

The workers involved in the original construction of the World Trade Centers are not the only ones filing claims of asbestos exposure. Individuals involved in the rescue, cleanup, and recovery of the September 11, 2001 site are another group known to be at risk of exposure. Because asbestos was widely used in the towers’ construction, hundreds of tons of asbestos were released into the atmosphere when they collapsed in the attack. According to the National Cancer Institute, those individuals at greatest risk include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, volunteers, and construction workers who worked at Ground Zero.

Others who may be at risk are those who lived in close proximity to the towers or who attended work or school nearby. One study found that about 70% of rescue and recovery workers at the site reported new or worsening respiratory problems while working there, and about 28% tested positive for abnormal lung function. There is also evidence that family members of exposed workers also face an increased risk of asbestos exposure and consequent lung diseases, such as mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand that this issue is incredibly sensitive and complex. With over four decades of experience, the Pintas & Mullins law firm has extensive experience and knowledge about many types of toxic exposure cases, especially those associated with asbestos. If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and developed a related lung disease, contact us today for a free legal consultation.