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New York City firefighters exit the walkway leading down into ground zero after finishing a shift on the cleanup and recovery effort at the disaster site of the World Trade Center March 7, 2002 in New York City.
The long, embattled World Trade Center settlement could finally be coming to an end.
Attorneys for thousands of sickened 9/11 workers proposed an increased settlement of up to $712 million for those suing the city over their exposure to toxic dust from the World Trade Center. The lawyers made their proposal before Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who has presided over 9/11 related cases as far back as 2003, this morning. The two sides have been renegotiating the package in recent months.
Under the revised settlement, lawyers from Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern agreed to reduce their fees from 33 percent to 25 percent -- cutting their payday by more than $50 million. In addition, the Captive Fund, which the federal government created to compensate 9/11 victims, has agreed to add a minimum of $50 million more to the pot for victim compensation. That number could go up to $100 million depending on how many clients agree to accept the settlement, according to a source familiar with the deal.
While he hadn't officially ruled on the proposal, Hellerstein lauded the amended settlement.
"This is a very good deal. I am very excited about this deal," he said in a statement, adding that the deal means plaintiffs will be "assured of a fair deal that puts money in their hand fast."
Hellerstein signed an order dismissing the lawsuit, clearing the way for a public hearing later this month. Ninety-five percent of the plaintiffs must sign off on the deal for it to be final.
The settlement originally was valued at up to $657.5 million. Lawyers representing New York City, construction companies and nearly 10,000 Ground Zero workers agreed to the sum that also indemnified the city and contractors against legal action.
However, Hellerstein along with thousands of the victims excoriated the lawyers back in March when it was revealed that the attorneys would get a third of the total payout.
The judge rejected the initial settlement because he believed the lawyers were getting too much at the victims' expense – a move some city attorneys believed transgressed his judicial bounds.
That prompted the City and contractors who handled the cleanup of the World trade Center Site to appeal the decision.
Hellerstein had demanded changes in the settlement, including adding millions of dollars more for the sick and reducing the cost of legal fees, claiming he had a moral obligation to 9/11 workers and to protect those most seriously sickened by their work at the towers.
According to the new proposal, certain workers’ compensation liens against settlement recovery will be waived, giving benefit to many plaintiffs and ensuring that they will continue to receive future benefits with no reductions
Plaintiffs who allege the most serious injuries will receive most of the increased payments. The most severe asthma claims could receive $800,000 to over $1 million, or more if the individual is found disabled as a result of injury .