Court Ruling May Help More 9/11 Volunteers Receive BenefitsJun 11, 2014
A state appeals court decision could help many 9/11 volunteers receive medical compensation. According to New York Law Journal, a panel of the Appellate Division, Third Department, unanimously ruled that the State Workers’ Compensation Board inappropriately restricted the definition of “volunteer” in Matter of Hazan, 517129.
New York Law Journal reports that Jaime Hazan, an emergency medical technician, left his home on the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help first responders on the scene; he set up a treatment area at Chelsea Piers and sorted supplies. He tried to look for survivors at Ground Zero the next day, using his EMT identification card to gain access to the scene. Hazan said in his 2010 application that he suffered from gastroesophageal reflux disease, depression, anxiety, rhinitis and sinusitis.
The State Worker’s Compensation Board denied Hazan’s request for compensation because he was not "serving under the direction of an authorized rescue entity or volunteer agency". Volunteers who are compensated under the WTC Volunteer fund receive money according to the schedule of Workers Compensation payments; the maximum allotment is $400 a week. According to New York Law Journal, an administrative law judge originally found that Hazan is eligible for compensation because exposure to hazardous substances and dust caused health problems.
The Third Department ruled that Hazan’s application could not be denied compensation because there is nothing in state statutes that permits this based on the board’s interpretation of a “volunteer”. Justice John Egan, Jr. wrote “Noticeably absent ... is any requirement that such individual 'serve under the direction of an authorized rescue entity or volunteer agency… Accordingly, the board's imposition of such a requirement is, to our analysis, contrary to the plain terms of the statute."
In 2006, the Legislature adopted Article 8A to remove "statutory obstacles to timely claims" for exposure to toxic substances related to 9/11. Egan found that even after the board adopted this, they still used the strict definition of “volunteer” from 2003. He reviewed drafts of Article 8A, and saw that older versions restricted volunteers to those who are under "direction and control of an authorized rescue entity", but this language was removed from the final version. This is “persuasive evidence” that the board wrongly rejected Hazan’s application based on their interpretation of a volunteer, Egan said.
Hazan told New York Law Journal that he believes the ruling could help thousands of volunteers who developed medical problems after being exposed to toxic dust in the 9/11 cleanup. "I was there. I saw what was going on. It was mobbed with volunteer responders who weren't on the payroll or in uniform," he said. He also said that there are many 9/11 volunteers who feel strongly about being denied a “lifeline”; he has used up most of his savings and used a significant portion of his IRA seeking 9/11 benefits.