Ailing 9/11 Workers Sue WTC Insurance Fund for Sick Pay

July 18, 2007

Ailing ground zero workers went to court Tuesday to demand that the company overseeing a $1 billion (euro730 million) Sept. 11 insurance fund uses it to pay for their health care.

Attorneys for the workers argue that federal officials meant for the money in the WTC Captive Insurance Co. to be used as compensation for sick workers.

The workers have already filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the toxic dust from the World Trade Center site gave them serious, possibly fatal diseases. On Tuesday they sought compensation from the company in charge of money appropriated by Congress to deal with Sept. 11 health-related claims.

“The WTC Captive has consistently refused to pay any of the ground zero workers who have become ill on the work site, including any compensation” for lost salaries, pain and suffering, medical treatment, medical monitoring or burial expenses, said the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan’s state Supreme Court.

City officials have long said that the money must first be used to litigate claims before it goes to workers. But attorneys filing the lawsuit in Manhattan’s state Supreme Court argue that the money was created to reimburse ailing workers _ not fight them in court.

“She hasn’t paid a penny to one of my 10,000 people,” David Worby, an attorney representing the workers, said of the company’s CEO, Christine LaSala. “It was their mandate.”

Congress directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2003 to appropriate up to $1 billion (euro730 million) “to establish a captive insurance company or other appropriate insurance mechanism for claims arising from debris removal, which may include claims made by city employees.”

The lawsuit, relying on testimony from federal officials over the years about the fund’s purpose, said officials meant for the money to be used to compensate ailing workers. Federal and state governments never said “that a captive insurance company be established solely to defend the city of New York and its contractors from all rescue, recovery and debris removal related claims, at all costs,” the lawsuit said.

In this case, the term “captive” refers to an entity created specifically to cover 9/11-related claims for the New York City government.

Since it began operating in 2004, the company has spent more than $73 million (euro53 million) of the insurance money in legal fees and other expenses, the lawsuit says.

Roy Winnick, a spokesman for WTC Captive, said he could not comment on the claim until the lawsuit was filed.

More than 100 of the plaintiffs in Worby’s lawsuit have died of respiratory diseases and cancers since the post-Sept. 11 cleanup. Last year, the largest study of ground zero workers determined about 70 percent suffer respiratory disease years after the cleanup.

Bloomberg and other city officials have estimated the cost of caring for the workers who are sick or who could become sick at $393 million (euro285.2 million) a year and urged the federal government to pay for their treatment and monitoring.

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