Judge New Gives Ground Zero Settlement Preliminary Approval

A new settlement—a better settlement—has been reached between New York City and the lawyers representing some 10,000 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 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/world_trade_center_emergency_workers">World Trade Center attacks, reported Business Week. Both sides have tentatively agreed to a $712.5 million compensation fund, and the judge overseeing the case has given it preliminary approval.

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. Payouts for the settlement were to come from WTC Captive Insurance, an entity created with $1 billion federal grant that provides insurance coverage to the City of New York and its debris-removal contractors.

When it was proposed, District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, in Manhattan, objected to some of its provisions and ordered the settlement to be renegotiated to better compensate plaintiffs. Among other things, he said legal fees had to be lowered and paid by WTC Captive over and above what was paid to injured plaintiffs. Attorneys agreed to reduce their fees from 33 percent to 25 percent of the settlement and WTC Captive Insurance agreed to add a minimum of $50 million more to the pot for victim compensation. That number could increase, according to The New York Times, yesterday.

At the time, said Business Week, both sides appealed Judge Hellerstein’s decision and argued against his power to reject the original decision; however, they did agree to continue negotiating. Now, everyone has described the new accord as better.

In addition to providing more money, the new accord also creates eligibility criteria for the purpose of compensating workers who claim disease and injuries, such as asthma and terminal cancer, said Captive Insurance attorney Margaret Warner, according to Business Week. Every claimant will also receive a cancer-insurance policy through MetLife with a $100,000 benefit at no cost, said Business Week. “This is a settlement that is fair, provides compensation now, certainty now, and closure for these plaintiffs who have waited so long,” Warner said when presenting the settlement terms to Judge Hellerstein, quoted Business Week.

The judge, who called the agreement “a very good deal,” signed the order dismissing the lawsuit, and scheduled a public hearing for June 23 public in which claimants and their attorneys can present objections, said Business Week. A minimum majority of 95 percent plaintiff approval must be met for this agreement to become legally binding, noted Business Week. Hellerstein said that, once approved, each of the plaintiffs will be “assured of a fair deal that puts money in their hand fast,” quoted Business Week.

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.

Now, plaintiffs who say that have suffered from debilitating respiratory diseases are eligible to receive from $800,000 to $1.05 million, said Captive Insurance said in a news release; death benefits could be as high as 1.5 million, said Business Week. Also, plaintiffs claiming fear of becoming ill, but who do not present with an injury that qualifies under the new accord, will receive $3,250.

“This is a fair settlement of a difficult and complex case that will allow first responders and workers to feel fairly compensated for injuries suffered following their work at Ground Zero,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, reported Business Week.

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