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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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October 24, 2001: Will the World Trade Center Bankrupt Insurance Companies?

Q: Won't the World Trade Center tragedy bankrupt many insurance companies and provide yet another gold mine for trial attorneys?

A. I have been told by my New York attorney friends and classmates that the number of claims and the different insurance sources are mind boggling, ranging from homeowners policies and automobile insurance to, of course, life policies and casualty coverage.

The companies insuring property damage currently have the biggest exposure. But remember insurance companies can be "insured" themselves by selling part or all of the risk in the so-called secondary re-insurance market.

This apparently happened with much of the risk of loss having been shifted to European sources who stand to take the biggest financial hits. But even these big re-underwriters seemed to have shifted part of their risk to yet a third group of backers.

Now, I am not saying that this company is significantly involved, but Lloyd's of London, for example, often acts as an organizer for people with money who, based on the odds, are willing to take on the liability for a premium based on the risk calculated by an actuary. Most of the time, these "investors" just walk away with the premiums in their pockets, but occasionally something like September 11th happens. This group appears to be heavily involved also.

Interestingly, the complex was sold and the remaining term to the 99-year lease on the land from the Port Authority was assigned just a few months prior to the destruction. However, apparently a significant part of the insurance coverage had not been finalized. But to the credit of the insurance companies, they agreed to be liable, or so I have been told by several sources.

The coverage was limited to 3.5 billion dollars per incident. But the ownership group of the complex is reportedly claiming that there were two incidents, each plane hitting each building was a separate incident, so that the total recovery should be 7 billion dollars. If you were the judge, how would you decide? That might be why we have trial attorneys because this may end up in Court in the near future.

It is much too early to see many lawsuits being filed. Hopefully the insurance settlements will reduce the number of Court cases, but there are any number of legal claims being examined involving the airports, airlines, plane manufacturers, various government entities, foreign countries, etc., just to name a few. We probably have seen only the tip of the iceberg.

As an aside, it has been widely reported that ten percent of all the leased legal space in the Borough of New York and twenty percent of the legal work was located and generated in the complex. Assuming that these reports are accurate, maybe many of the law firms are having trouble relocating and reloading. That may be why more legal news has not been surfacing about claims. Who knows?

READER ALERT: For the regular readers of this column (there has to be one or two), just maybe the next column will have a pop quiz to see how much you are retaining.

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