The Disgraceful Treatment of 9/11 First Responders

The city should do the right thing

A federal judge reports that the plaintiffs in the lawsuits by first responders to the World Trade Center may be getting closer to a settlement.

It’s been eight and a half years since thousands of fire fighters, police officers and other city workers and volunteers rushed to the site, and clawed through the rubble in search of possible survivors and remains of the victims of the terrorist attack. 

Lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the city have been dueling in court. And there have been many delays.

That it’s taken this long is a disgrace. Some of these first responders suffered major injuries or illnesses. Hundreds have died already.

But now Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein, monitoring the case, reports: “There have been intensive discussions going on looking to settlements of individual cases and globally of all cases.” He says the parties have worked hard and that the settlement is “complicated.”

The plaintiffs -- more than 9,000 of them -- claim the city, its contractors and other major defendants, including the Port Authority, had inadequate safety procedures and supervision. 

Now, a  draft settlement has reportedly been agreed upon.

John Feal, a demolition expert, lost half his left foot when a steel beam fell on it as he worked in the rubble. He became a major advocate for first responders. He told me: “It’s an insult to those who have suffered much more than I that it’s taken so long to get any compensation for them.”

In the wake of 9/11 many first responders have developed respiratory illnesses. As the Times reports, some legal experts believe the cases have been made more complicated by the fact that the collapse of the towers “created an unfamiliar toxic soup from the dust and fumes.”

A Cardozo law school professor, Anthony Sebok, told me it will be “difficult” to prove that what happened actually caused these respiratory ailments. He says, because of the complexity and number of cases,  some kind of “rough justice” might have to be found, possibly a compromise solution to the thousands of cases.

I spoke to Glen Klein, a former NYPD emergency service officer from Centereach, Long Island. He says his  respiratory and gastrointestinal problems were caused by the hundreds of hours he spent on recovery at ground zero.

“I wake up every day scared to death that I may have some fatal disease like cancer,” he says. “And yet I’m still better off than some of the construction workers and others who don’t get any benefits. Some people have lost their homes. Marriages have broken up.

“I hope we’re getting close to a settlement, for the sake especially of those people who have suffered more than me."

No matter how the law suits are finally settled, it’s time that President Obama took strong action in support of the first responders. He could endorse the bill that’s been lying around in Congress for four years. This legislation would provide decent health care and compensation for these aggrieved people for years to come.

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