Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

Jury on WTC Insurance: Two planes = two events  | e-mail post

I was under the impression that, in general, juries are "triers of fact," while judges apply, and as necessary, interpret, the law. So I guess I was a little confused when I read the article about a federal jury determining that for purpose of the payouts with nine insurers, the WTC attack was two separate events (two planes, after all). [WSJ] [Reuters via FT] Needless to say, this will have a material impact on the final insurance payments that insurers will pay and Larry Silverstein, the site's leaseholder will collect.

In May, another jury found that in the case of the WTC's coverage from Swiss Re, the terrorist attack was a single event, an "occurence or series of occurences." [Insurance Journal] They had similar findings for eight other insurers in a case in late April. There was some discussion in the Swiss Re trial as to whether or not Swiss Re was aware of or accepted the coverage change from the Willis Property (Wilprop) form to the Travelers form. I can see some jury involvement in the question of fact: whether there had been the requisite offer, acceptance and consideration components of a contract. Apparently, in the Travelers form, the word "occurence" was not specfically defined, thus leaving the door open for multiple claims. The insurance defendants in the case decided today were all under the Travelers form.

I was surprised this was a jury trial, although this could be due to ignorance, as I have almost no information about the case (it certainly wasn't fighting the Peterson trial for coverage). If the decision hinged on what the terms of the Travelers form meant, it would seem that this would be something a matter of contract interpretation and would rely primarily on the prior intepretation of such language, relevant regulation or legislation and possibly the common law tradition, if it came down to that; these things would seem to be questions of law, not of fact.

So I guess the question I have is what was the role of the jury involved in this decision? I am curious what the jury instructions were; what exactly they were being asked to decide. On its face, it just confuses me that a jury, particularly when one considers the typical make up of a jury, is deciding what would seem to be a fairly legalistic and linguistic matter. Not to mention the issue that in the absence of definitive language to the contrary, wouldn't a jury of New Yorkers have some potential bias in favor of an increased award to the WTC leaseholder who is rebuilding the site? (And it's hard not to feel bad for Silverstein, given he signed the lease for the WTC about 6 weeks before it was destroyed.)

I did go to the Southern District of NY Court subsite for September 11th-related litigation, however they have not posted any updates for today's decision.

If anyone knows and could briefly define the situation (or point me to a link that would address this), I would appreciate it.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, December 06, 2004
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