World Trade Center Workers Must Be Heard Before Settlement Vote, Judge Says

A federal judge overseeing <"">World Trade Center emergency worker lawsuits in New York City said last week that he wants to hear from injured and sickened workers before a $657 million proposed settlement is put to a vote. On Friday, Judge Alvin Hellerstein invited 11,000 rescue and recovery workers involved in the litigation to testify at a public hearing to be scheduled sometime in the next week to determine if the deal is “fair, appropriate and just to all affected.”

Since 2003, thousands of 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. 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.

The proposed $657 million settlement was announced last week. It still has to be approved by Judge Hellerstein and at least 95 percent of plaintiffs in order to be adopted. 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.

If approved, workers would received anywhere from $3,200 to $2 million, before attorney fees, in exchange for dropping their suits. 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.

According to a report in The New York Post, the judge did seem impressed with the proposal. “This will not be a giveaway,” he said. It “will be as fair and as just as we can make it.” However, Judge Hellerstein did call for cut in the attorneys fees provided for in the settlement, and said amendments to the settlement are still possible.

Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers have 90 days to vote on the proposed settlement. The clock began ticking last Thursday.

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