Lawyers and city officials are trying to get emergency responders to agree to settlement of money drawn from federal fund
The judge ruling over the settlement to compensate suffering Ground Zero workers announced on Friday he will delay his decision to approve the payment of $657 million dollars to 10,000 plaintiffs.
Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein said he needed a week to study the deal and make sure it is fair, according to the Daily News.
Meanwhile, lawyers and city officials expressed confidence Friday that they can get ground zero responders to agree to a settlement, which will benefit the workers who developed health problems after toiling in the ruins of the World Trade Center.
Thousands of workers who claim to have been sickened by dust and debris will have three months to decide whether to accept the package. If 95 percent don't say yes, the deal is off.
The decision will be complicated, but a lead attorney for the firm that negotiated the settlement says most of the feedback from clients so far has been positive.
"By far, the calls are running very positive. The clients are quite relieved that an end is in sight," said Marc Bern, a senior partner with the law firm Worby, Groner, Edelman & Napoli, Bern LLP, which negotiated the deal.
Still, with so many plaintiffs involved in the case, success isn't assured. A representative of one victims' group expressed reservations Friday that deal doesn't contain enough money.
"From what I've seen, I don't think you're going to get 95 percent of the people to opt-in," said John Feal of the Long Island-based FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group for 9/11 health-care issues. He noted that some workers could wind up getting only a few thousand dollars for illnesses that will bother them for life.
"This is far from fair," he said. "I just don't believe this is enough money."
The settlement, announced Thursday evening, would give workers cash payments ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million.
Most of those workers will have to decide whether to say yes to the deal before they know for sure how much money they stand to receive, but officials and lawyers involved in crafting the settlement have already begun urging clients to take the deal.
"I think it's a good settlement for everybody," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 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."
Funding for the settlement will come from the WTC Captive Insurance Co., a special entity established with a $1 billion grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to indemnify the city against potential legal action related to the trade center cleanup.
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 firefighter 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.
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.
Thousands of police officers, firefighters and construction workers who put in time at the 16-acre site in lower Manhattan had sued 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.
Lawyers for the city claimed it did its best to get respiratory equipment to everyone who needed it. They also had challenged some of the claims as based on the thinnest of medical evidence, noting that thousands of the people suing suffered from conditions common in the general population or from no illness at all.
It has yet to be seen how effective or potentially confrontational the process of evaluating claims will be.