Thursday, March 11, 2010

Settlement Deal Pending On Ground Zero Worker Health Claims

A deal was reached earlier today that, if 95% of Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers agree, would set aside a fund of up to $657 million to cover health care claims that arise.
The settlement was announced Thursday evening by the WTC Captive Insurance Co., a special entity established to indemnify the city and its contractors against potential legal action as they moved to clean up the site after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The deal, which still must be approved by a judge and the workers themselves, would make the city and other companies represented by the insurer liable for a minimum of $575 million, with more money available to the sick if certain conditions are met.

Most if not all of the money would come out of a $1 billion grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the settlement "a fair and reasonable resolution to a complex set of circumstances."

"The resolution of the World Trade Center litigation will allow the first responders and workers to be compensated for injuries suffered following their work at Ground Zero," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Marc Bern, a senior partner with the law firm Worby, Groner, Edelman & Napoli, Bern LLP, which negotiated the deal, said it was "a good settlement."

"We are gratified that these heroic men and women who performed their duties without consideration of the health implications will finally receive just compensation for their pain and suffering, lost wages, medical and other expenses, as the U.S. Congress intended when it appropriated this money," he said in a statement.

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.
Inevitably, I expect there will be some holdouts, but this may be a good deal particularly because it frees up care and funds that would have otherwise been held up in lawsuits.

If 95% agree, $575 million would be set aside, but if the entire class of workers agrees, the fund would rise to $657 million.

Individual claims might range from thousands of dollars to several million, depending on the nature of injuries and the illnesses sustained.

Operation of the fund
would be akin to the Victim Compensation Fund where a special master would take the cases and provide a settlement figure.

Considering that there were dozens of defendants and thousands of workers suing, this streamlines the process. Also, the settlement would set aside funds to provide for workers who are not currently showing signs of illness. That's a potentially serious concern given that some illnesses may take years before they develop - sarcoidosis, emphysema, lung cancers, etc.

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