Judge Gives Ok to Ground Zero Settlement

A new and improved settlement was reached between New York City and lawyers representing some 10,000 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/world_trade_center_emergency_workers">Ground Zero workers who say they became ill as a result of their rescue, recovery, and clean-up efforts in the days and months following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, reported Business Week recently. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein signed the order approving the settlement of over $700 million, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

Before the deal can be considered final, it must receive majority approval—95 percent—from the plaintiffs involved, said the AP; the exact amount of the settlement is dependent on how many people accept. The settlement could pay anywhere from $625 million to $712.5 million, depending on how many plaintiffs accept, said the AP, noting that if 600 decline, the entire deal is null.

At a so-called “fairness hearing” over toxic ash exposure, retired New York Police Department Detective Joseph Greco said that the settlement “put our minds at ease …. Our families have been through so much …. This can’t go on anymore,” quoted the AP. Greco suffers from chronic asthma.

A small few questioned the fairness of the settlement in terms of those who died from nonlung cancers, said the AP, which explained that the claims formula appears to work best for those plaintiffs who suffer from respiratory illness and lung cancer. “I’ve watched some good men die at an early age,” said retired firefighter Kenneth Specht, quoted the AP. Judge Hellerstein said that although the deal is “far from perfect … it’s the best we could do,” reported the AP

According to the AP, approximately half of those covered either aren’t ill or are suffering from minor issues, but became involved in the lawsuit over fears they will become ill in the future. Plaintiffs claiming fear of becoming ill, but who do not present with an injury that qualifies under the new accord, will receive smaller payouts of 3,250 to $11,000. Most of the settlement—about 94 percent, said the AP—will go toward the most serious illnesses, such as lung cancer and emphysema, while one quarter will pay legal fees.

Individual settlements will be based on the seriousness of the illness, how much time the plaintiff spend at the WTC site, and other issues including age, health history, and if the illness can be associated with WTC dust, explained the AP. For instance, a plaintiff suffering from asthma could receive from $12,000 to $781,000, noted the AP.

A smaller, $657.5 million settlement announced in March would have paid individual plaintiffs anywhere from $3,200 to $2 million, before attorney fees, in exchange for dropping their suits. When it was proposed, Judge Hellerstein objected to some of its provisions and ordered the settlement to be renegotiated to better compensate plaintiffs.

Since 2003, upwards of 10,000 firefighters, police officers, construction workers and emergency responders have filed lawsuits against 90 defendants over illnesses they say were caused by exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They allege that the defendants, including New York City, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and construction companies, failed to adequately supervise and protect them with safety equipment during rescue and clean-up efforts.

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