Questions Raised Over WTC Settlement

Some <"">World Trade Center Rescue and Recovery Workers appear to be getting slighted in compensation settlement arrangements. We’ve long been following the issue, pointing out that some of the more seriously ill workers could receive significantly less in settlements that are being called “unfair and illogical,” quoted the New York Post.

For instance, said the Post, one worker, diagnosed with asthma, could receive about 30 times more in financial compensation from New York City’s 9/11 settlement versus another worker dying of cancer. The Post pointed to Brad Bonaparte, 48, an ironworker who spent three months in the smoke and debris at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks. Bonaparte was responsible to torch steel beams so that a path could be maintained for other rescue and recovery workers to pass, said the Post. Today, Bonaparte has advanced esophageal cancer and is looking at a mere $5,800 in compensation, said the Post, which noted that Bonaparte is the father of six.

And, while Bonaparte’s settlement will not even cover potential funeral costs, Waldemar Balcer, 58, is expected to receive $175,000, wrote the Post. Balcer continues to work a part-time job and suffers from asthma and other issues after removing dust and debris from lower Manhattan schools and offices for a city contractor, noted the Post.

Manhattan federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is overseeing the cases, described the settlement as favoring attorneys while slighting rescue and recovery workers, and asked for additional talks “to come up with a better and fair” deal, for instance, “more money to pay for the cancers,” quoted the Post.

Considered largely unfair, so-called “top secret negotiations” occurred with the City of New York in which a settlement was devised to pay out between $575 and $657 million, wrote the Post. Like Hellerstein, many feel that those with less life-threatening illness will receive massive compensation packages while those who are abjectly ill will receive the very least. The most ill include men like Bonaparte who have been diagnosed with solid-tumor cancers and others who have suffered from heart attacks, said the Post.

The secret negotiations also seem to be excluding 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 that wasn’t announced until two months after it had 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.

Recently, the law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, which represents 12 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.”

Meanwhile, there are challenges in proving some illnesses, specifically, some cancers, are related to the toxic air and debris at Ground Zero, because of a dearth of peer-reviewed information linking some diagnoses to Ground Zero toxins, said the Post. Some argue that cancers that take longer to develop are not related to the attacks; however, little is known about the large mix of carcinogens and other toxins at the site. Because blood cancers are known to manifest earlier—three-to-five years—victims with leukemia and lymphoma are likely to receive about $320,000 each, wrote the Post, noting that it’s more readily believed these illnesses were a result of the noxious environment at Ground Zero.

Also easier to link are asthma, sleep apnea, and digestive disorders, in a settlement that gives a point value based on illness type and severity with 650 points for minor or difficult-to-prove illnesses—including tumor cancers—and 100,000 and 200,000 for serious lung illnesses and respiratory disorders, respectively, said the Post. A dollar amount based on the system is expected to be assigned when the settlement is approved, but some on the inside believe one point equals $10 with points deducted for age, smoking, etcetera, said the Post.

Others disagree with the proposed settlement for different reasons, for instance, retired Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighter Keith Del Mar, 35, initially hailed the settlement negotiated for him by the law firm Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern, said the Post. Del Mar just rescinded his approval after learning that 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; however, he just 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.

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 attacks. They also 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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