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Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Claims by 9/11 Cleanup Workers

Aug 7, 2014

A federal appeals court in New York has reinstated claims by 211 workers who sought compensation for alleged exposure to toxic contaminants when they worked on cleanup in buildings near the World Trade Center site after the September 11 attacks.

Last Thursday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court judge had been mistaken in dismissing the workers’ claims. They had answered "none" on a questionnaire that asked if they had been "diagnosed" with ailments, injuries or diseases, Reuters reports. They were employees of cleaning companies hired by Verizon, Brookfield Properties and other owners of downtown Manhattan buildings damaged or destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.

"The fact that plaintiffs answered 'none' to the interrogatory was an insufficient basis, by itself, for a blanket conclusion that all 211 plaintiffs could not establish their claims against defendants as a matter of law," Circuit Judge Denny Chin wrote for a three-judge 2nd Circuit panel, Reuters reports. The decision overturned a 2012 dismissal of the claims by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan, who oversees September 11 litigation, according to Reuters.

A lawyer for the workers said, "It is clear that the exposures that these individuals had led to their injuries." The 2nd Circuit said Hellerstein should have examined whether individual plaintiffs had suffered a compensable injury, even if it wasn’t diagnosed or had emerged later.

The court described workers who had no diagnosis but deserved a chance to present their claims. One worker, for example, complained of dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath but received no diagnosis the doctor he saw, while another worker reported bronchitis, chronic coughing and difficulty breathing, Reuters reports. Judge Chin wrote that, despite the “sheer number” of cases before the court, “the district court was obligated to individually consider each plaintiff's answer of 'none' in the context of any other evidence of injury."

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