Settlement Deadline Extended for Ground Zero Responders

August 27, 2010

Thousands of ground zero responders are being given more time to decide whether to settle lawsuits over their exposure to potentially toxic dust from the ruins of the World Trade Center, lawyers in the case said.

The lawyers said they have scrapped a deadline that gave rescue and response workers until Sept. 8 to join or reject a settlement worth as much as $713 million.

The nearly 10,000 police officers, firefighters, and construction and utility workers involved in the suits will now get until Nov. 8 to make a decision.

The special insurance entity representing New York City in the litigation said the extension was needed because of “unexpected logistical delays” in implementing the settlement, which was tentatively reached in June.

Workers who join the settlement will agree to drop their legal claims against New York City and the demolition companies that handled the ground zero cleanup. In exchange, they would get payments ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million as compensation for illnesses caused by the dust.

More money would go to people who can show that exposure to trade center toxins made them gravely ill. People who aren’t sick now, but worry that they might fall ill later, will get smaller amounts of money.

For the deal to take effect, 95 percent of plaintiffs in the case must vote to join the settlement.

So far, their response has been running favorable, but was largely incomplete.

More than 5,000 people have already said yes to the deal, according to the WTC Captive Insurance Co., the insurance entity created by Congress to defend the city against 9/11-related litigation. That accounts for about half of all eligible workers.

“Less than one-half of one percent” have rejected the settlement, the company said. That would amount to about 50 people.

The rest of the workers involved in the case have yet to respond.

“We are encouraged by the thousands of plaintiffs who have already opted in, but we decided to extend the deadline to make sure every plaintiff has ample time and information to make an informed decision,” WTC Captive President and CEO Christine LaSala said in a statement.

She said more time was needed for plaintiffs to speak with their attorneys. Some did not get letters outlining how much money they stood to receive under the deal until a few weeks ago, and many have yet to meet with their lawyers.

Other factors in the delay included new squabbles over how much the legal team handling the bulk of the workers’ suits will be able to charge in fees and expenses.

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