Judge: WTC Volunteer Fireman’s Family Entitled to Death Benefit

June 26, 2007

Rebuffing the government, a U.S. judge ruled that the family of a volunteer firefighter who died in the burning World Trade Center towers, is eligible for a death benefit given to public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

Judge Marian Blank Horn of Federal Court of Claims described as “arbitrary” the Justice Department’s decision to deny Glenn Winuk’s family the $250,000 benefit payment.

Winuk, at the time a 40-year-old lawyer, perished in the twin towers’ collapse after rushing to ground zero from his downtown office to aid victims of the terror attacks. At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, he was not in uniform, but still grabbed his medical bag and rushed into the building.

Justice lawyers had argued Winuk did not qualify for the benefit because he had left his full-duty status at a Long Island fire station lapse.

Horn wrote last Wednesday that Winuk’s duty status on Sept. 11 should have been clear: He had decades of experience as a firefighter, and he was wearing surgical gloves and a stethoscope when he died. Similarly, the fire chief at the station where he had worked certified after Winuk’s death that he was representing the department.

State lawmakers also passed a statute declaring that Winuk died in the line of duty.

Justice Department officials did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on the case Friday.

Winuk’s brother, Jay, said the family was hopeful there would be no appeal. He said the case was about more than $250,000 (euro185,998).

“What matters is that, for the first time, we are able to say that the United States of America recognizes Glenn Winuk’s line of duty status,” Jay Winuk said Friday. “That means a great deal to our family, when you consider what happened here.”

Like other families who lost relatives at the World Trade Center, Glenn Winuk’s parents received a sizable payment from the federal Victims’ Compensation Fund.

The dispute involved a separate benefit under a law that provides a one-time payment to the families of slain police, firefighters and government rescue workers.

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