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NEW YORK CITY-Larry Silverstein’s two-planes, two-claims case took a whipping today when a judge ruled in favor of three insurance firms’ contentions that the World Trade Center bombings amounted to a single occurrence. Silverstein has taken every opportunity over the last year to assert his position that the terrorist attacks were separate incidents deserving of two full insurance payouts.

US District Judge John Martin delivered a summary judgment declaring that Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., St. Paul Cos. and Royal Indemnity Co. will be held liable for coverage of only one event in the attacks of last Sept. 11. It is unclear how the decision will affect the other 17 insurers that have yet to come to terms with Silverstein. Two firms, Ace Ltd. and XL Capital Ltd., both of Bermuda, have already settled.

“Although we have not seen Judge Martin’s opinion yet, we are pleased with his decision to grant our motion for summary judgment, finding the World Trade Center property losses to be one occurrence,” a Hartford spokeswoman tells GlobeSt.com. “The Hartford Group has satisfied its insurance obligation for the single occurrence and believes it has no further obligation for the World Trade Center Loss.”

St. Paul’s spokesperson minces no words on the subject. “We’re very pleased by the judge’s well-reasoned ruling,” she tells GlobeSt.com.

Today’s decision cuts to the heart of Silverstein’s case, which hinges upon the interpretation of binder agreements. For Silverstein’s two-event scenario to fly, he must convince the court that insurers were bound by a Travelers-issued insurance policy rather than a more explicitly worded document drafted by Willis Group Holdings Ltd.

While the Travelers policy does not define an “occurrence,” Willis specifies the term as “all losses or damages that are attributable directly or indirectly to one cause or to one series of similar causes.” Because the attacks took place before the final insurance papers were signed, and so much of the pending court cases rest on which of the two binders takes precedence, the so-called WilProp form has become the bane of Silverstein’s existence.

In an exclusive GlobeSt.com interview, Swiss Re Holding chairman Jacques E. Dubois says today’s ruling is the thin end of the wedge for his firm and the remaining insurers that have been battling the WTC owner since the twin towers fell. “We feel gratified and vindicated in a lot of ways,” Dubois says. “What the judge established is that the Willis form means this is a one-occurrence conclusion.” The WilProp form, Dubois notes, was “intended as a uniform or common program” that was put in place to simplify processing claims. “Swiss Re will be proven to be bound by the Willis form. The dominoes are all falling in place.”

Despite today’s setback, Silverstein’s camp is already in full damage control mode. “Obviously, we disagree with the ruling and will consider an appeal at the appropriate time,” a spokesman states. “However, these three insurers’ coverage amounts to a total of $112 million per occurrence, so that limiting these insurers to a single occurrence does not have a material effect on the overall amounts of $6.7 billion to be recovered in the litigation.”

But Dubois says he is confident that Swiss Re will prevail in the courtroom. “The trial begins Nov. 4 with jury selection,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “And for us it is a trial to determine that we’re bound by the Willis form. That is going to lead to a one-occurrence conclusion for us.”

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