Appeals Court Ruling a Victory for World Trade Center Rescue WorkersMar 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Lawsuits filed by World Trade Center rescue workers sickened by the toxic dust at Ground Zero will be able to proceed, following an appeals court ruling limiting New York City's immunity in such lawsuits. The city had been trying to have the World Trade Center rescue workers' suits dismissed, claiming that because it was responding to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, federal and state laws provided immunity from such lawsuits.
In the hours and days after 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 are suffering from ill health as a result of their exposure to toxic dust at the site. Released last May, the initial findings of a three-year study conducted by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that of the 9,000 WTC first responders examined, 70-percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60-percent still faced respiratory problems. Another report released by the FDNY that same month reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who were first responders at Ground Zero. And the New York City Department of Health also found that one in eight first responders still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Faced with daunting medical bills, and often too disabled to work, thousands of World Trade Center rescue workers have had no choice but to sue New York City and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for their injuries. Lawyers for those entities had asked the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to give them immunity from nearly 8,000 workers' claims. The city was appealing a 2006 decision by the United States District Court in Manhattan that ruled it might only have partial immunity in regards to World Trade Center rescue worker lawsuits.
According to The New York Times, the 2nd Circuit ruled against the city, having determined that many of the immunity claims raised by the city were so complex that they could only be resolved by further litigation. A lawyer representing many of the World Trade Center rescue workers told the Times the ruling was a tremendous victory for his clients. He said that if the cases go to trial, workers would be able to show that the city did not take proper precautions to protect them from hazardous dust.
The city has not yet said if it would appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court, and according to The New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and advocates for the World Trade Center rescue workers have asked Congress to reopen the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund to compensate injured workers in lieu of the litigation.