Ground Zero Responders Angered By Law Firm’s Settlement Letter

A law firm representing many <"">Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers is making headlines again. And, again, over how it’s angering its clients.

Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern is now being accused, wrote the New York Post, of sending out a so-called “misleading” mass email to its nearly 10,000 Ground Zero responder clients indicating they can “only” apply for compensation under the recently enacted James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation bill if they agree to accept a proposed settlement with the City of New York.

Responders are outraged, accusing the firm of massaging facts to get as many as possible to accept a deal that will garner it over $150 million in fees, noted the Post. It seems the email used eye-catching fonts to emphasize the statement: “If you have sued the city and/or contractors, etc, you can only apply for Zadroga compensation if you settle and release all claims,” quoted the Post. “Therefore, if you want to protect your future rights to any compensation you may be entitled to under Zadroga, you must opt-in to the settlement with the city and contractors immediately,” the text continued.

Issues with the firm are not new. We recently wrote that retired Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighter Keith Del Mar, 35, initially hailed a settlement negotiated for him by the firm, but rescinded his approval last month after learning he would receive some $30,000 less than what he was first advised, with the law firm claiming a calculation “error,” wrote the Post. Del Mar feels he was victimized, describing his settlement as a bait-and-switch. Del Mar received a proposal package that included a figure ranging from $185,000 and $228,000, prior to attorney fees and expenses; he then received a letter stating the actual figure would be $24,000 to $33,000 less. “My blood is boiling … I signed the papers for the original deal. It’s a bait-and-switch,” Del Mar, who suffers from lung issues and asthma, said, quoted the Post.

The Ground Zero Responder Bill just passed in the house and will provide World Trade Center (WTC) workers sickened after their work at the site free health care and compensation of about $7.4 billion; similar measures are pending in the Senate. A summary of the bill by Representative Carolyn Maloney’s office, said the Post, indicates that workers not accepting the settlement can apply for compensation under the bill if they withdraw their lawsuits. Those settling prior to the bill becoming law can file a claim for more funds while the bill is being written, added the Post.

Meanwhile, secret negotiations seem to have excluded some Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers over a technicality under which some who would otherwise be qualified to take part in the settlement process are being excluded based on an arbitrary date not announced until two months after it expired. The April 12 claimant eligibility cut-off date was announced on June 10, 2010, exempting rescue and recovery workers who filed cases from April 27 through June 10, as negotiations for the cut-off were ongoing without their knowledge, but with the involvement of some key groups such as the City of New York, the settlement steering committee, and a number of defendants. 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.

Many argue that this group should be given the option to be part of the ongoing settlement process. Clearly, advance notice of the date should have been given, but was not. And, it’s possible that there are potentially more individuals who would otherwise be qualified for this settlement agreement except for the date they filed.

The law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, which represents 12 such excluded cases, filed a motion to have that deadline extended. “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,” Matthew McCauley, an attorney with the firm, said recently. “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.”

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