Ground Zero Rescue and Recovery Workers Excluded from Settlement

Are our <"">World Trade Center (WTC) heroes being unfairly excluded from the ongoing settlement process to settle lawsuits over exposure to the toxic dust that covered the WTC following the 9/11 attacks? Some Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers are being rejected over a technicality.

It seems that there are a number of individuals who would otherwise be qualified to take part in the settlement process but who are being excluded based on an arbitrary date that wasn’t announced until two months after it had expired. The early April deadline was not announced until June, exempting some who were impacted by rescue and recovery activities and who had filed cases as negotiations for the cut-off were ongoing.

The April 12 claimant eligibility cut-off date was announced on June 10, 2010.

During the time when workers filed claims—on April 27—and until June 10, some key people involved in the negotiations were fully aware that claims had come in, including the City of New York, the settlement steering committee, and a number of defendants. And, although there was knowledge that those who worked at the WTC site were filing claims, neither they nor any involved parties on the plaintiff side were made aware that an arbitrary cut-off date was in the works. Meanwhile, these potential claimants had come forward out of concern that illnesses that occurred in the years since the tragedy, and that could occur in future years, could leave their families destitute.

Many argue that this group—12 cases—should be given the option to be part of the ongoing settlement process since their cases were known to defendant parties at the time the cut-off date was being decided. Clearly, advance notice of the date should have been given, but was not. It’s also possible that there are potentially more individuals who would otherwise be qualified for this settlement agreement except for the date they filed.

Matthew McCauley, an attorney with the law firm Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, which represents the 12 excluded cases says that, “Parker Waichman Alonso’s number one goal is to ensure all injured World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers be given the option to be included in this settlement agreement. These victims should not be excluded based on an arbitrary date when they present with injuries directly attributable to their work at the World Trade Center.”

There also exists a different set of requirements for workers who filed after April 12. Consider this: Workers involved in cleanup efforts for a minimum of 56 hours and who filed within the first two years receive broad acceptance that their illnesses or potential illnesses were and are a result of exposure to potentially toxic dust that covered Ground Zero; this group will also receive a variety of incentives, including eligibility for a cancer policy under certain circumstances. Persons filing after April 12, in addition to being excluded from the settlement, must also provide medical proof of injury.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who signed the order approving the settlement of over $700 million, said in June that although the deal is “far from perfect … it’s the best we could do” it’s “a very good deal,” adding that, once approved, claimants will be “assured of a fair deal that puts money in their hand fast.” Sadly, many deserving rescue and recovery workers are not being given the opportunity to even consider this deal because a back-room decision was made excluding them during the very time they were filing.

The claimants who were left out of the settlement that was approved by the Court worked side-by-side with other first responders at the World Trade Center site.  They came from out-of-state places like Chicago and Akron, and from right over the bridge, in Queens. No effort was made to alert anyone of the pending litigation, let alone of a possible settlement. Worse, they were told that in order to participate, they had to file by April 12, 2010.

That is, until the June 10th public announcement, when it was already too late. These men and women can’t understand why no one bothered to tell them. After all, there didn’t seem to be a problem notifying them that they were needed on September 11, 2001.

They stories they tell are too harrowing to believe, bringing to mind the darkest days following the Twin Towers’ collapse. These first responders don’t share those experiences easily, becoming very quiet when asked where they were and what they did. They only ask that they be given the same opportunity as those with whom they served, and then, not even for themselves, but for their families.

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