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$657.5 Million Settlement Announced in Ground Zero Emergency Worker Lawsuits

Mar 12, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

A settlement agreement has been reached in lawsuits filed by thousands of  Ground Zero workers who say exposure to toxic dust at the destroyed World Trade Center injured their health.

According to The New York Times, the $657.5 million 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.

 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.

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.

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. 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. A claims administrator chosen by the lawyers in the case would make decisions regarding validity of claims, and amounts of compensation.

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.

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.

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