Settlement Announced In Ground Zero Emergency Responder Lawsuits

Years of litigation that followed the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks could finally be coming to an end, following an announcement yesterday that a settlement agreement had been reached in thousands of lawsuits. According to The New York Times, if approved, the $657.5 million settlement will be divided among some 10,000 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/world_trade_center_emergency_workers">Ground Zero workers who say exposure to toxic dust at the destroyed World Trade Center injured their health.

In the hours and days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, thousands of rescue workers descended on Ground Zero to help with recovery efforts. Sifting through dust and rubble, sometimes with their bare hands, many lacked the clothing and equipment that could have kept them safe from harm. Several studies have confirmed that Ground Zero first responders continue to suffer from ill health as a result of their exposure to toxic dust at the site, including asthma and other lung diseases.

Since 2003, thousands of firefighters, police officers, construction workers and emergency responders have filed lawsuits against 90 defendants over these illnesses. They alleged 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. Bellwether, or test trials, were supposed to start in those lawsuits in May, but they will be postponed or canceled in light of the newly-announced settlement agreement.

According to The New York Times, the Ground Zero injury settlement was announced yesterday by WTC Captive Insurance Co. WTC is an entity created with a $1 billion federal grant that provides insurance coverage to the City of New York and its debris-removal contractors. The Ground Zero injury settlement goes before U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein today for his approval. According to the Associated Press, Judge Hellerstein has said he favored a settlement but planned to analyze it carefully to make sure it was fair.

Payouts for the settlement would come from WTC Captive Insurance. Amounts to individuals would vary from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million for the most serious injuries, The New York Times said. A claims administrator chosen by the lawyers in the case would decide whether a given plaintiff had a valid claim, whether the plaintiff qualified for compensation and if so, for how much. In addition to paying claims for workers who are sick now, the settlement fund includes a $23.4 million insurance policy to cover future claims by such plaintiffs who later develop cancer or other ailments tied to the toxic dust.

According to the Associated Press, workers who wish to participate in the settlement would need to prove they had been at the World Trade Center site or other facilities that handled debris. They also would have to turn over medical records and provide other information aimed at weeding out fraudulent or dubious claims.

Judge Hellerstein has told lawyers on both sides that he planned to review each settlement and hold “fairness” hearings to determine whether the settlements were reasonable, the Times said.

For the settlement to take affect, at least 95 percent of the plaintiffs must agree to its terms. According to The New York Times, if 100 percent of the plaintiffs agree to the terms, the total settlement would be $657.5 million. But if only the required 95 percent agreed, the total would shrink to $575 million.

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