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Updated: May 26, 2010 21:26 IST

Judge to hear plan to pay $657M to WTC responders

AP
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In this June 25, 2007, file photo, Ground Zero clean-up worker Mary Elizabeth Bishop of New York City, left, and her attorney Marc Jay Bern, talk to reporters outside the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington. AP.
In this June 25, 2007, file photo, Ground Zero clean-up worker Mary Elizabeth Bishop of New York City, left, and her attorney Marc Jay Bern, talk to reporters outside the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington. AP.

A settlement that could pay up to $657.5 million to more than 10,000 rescue and recovery workers sickened by dust from the destroyed World Trade Center goes before a judge on Friday.

He has said he favours a settlement but plans to analyze it carefully to make sure it is fair.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the proposal fair, a sentiment echoed by one of the negotiators of the deal that was announced on Thursday night after years of fighting in court.

“I think it’s a good settlement for everybody,” Mr. Bloomberg said on Friday on his weekly radio show. “This takes care of civilians and uniform service members, it takes care of the private contractors who were brought in. ... So I think it’s fair and reasonable given the circumstances. We’ve been working on this for a long time.”

The settlement agreed to by lawyers representing the city, construction companies and the workers was announced by 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 September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Both sides were scheduled to appear before the federal judge handling the litigation, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who must approve the deal along with the workers themselves. For the settlement to be enforced, 95 percent of the workers would need to agree to be bound by its terms.

The settlement would mean a postponement or cancellation of the trials tentatively scheduled to begin in May.

Some of the cases scheduled to be heard first included that of a fire-fighter who died of throat cancer and another who needed a lung transplant, as well as workers with less serious ailments, including a Consolidated Edison utility company employee with limited exposure to the debris pile and no current serious illness.

The deal 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.

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.”

Workers who wish to participate in the settlement would need to prove they had been at the World Trade Centre 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.

Thousands of police officers, fire-fighters and construction workers who put in time at the 16—acre (6.5—hectare) site in lower Manhattan had filed lawsuits against the city, claiming it sent them to ground zero without proper protective equipment.

Many now claim to have fallen ill. A majority complained of a respiratory problem similar to asthma, but the suits also sought damages for hundreds of other types of ailments, including cancer.

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