Saturday, March 13, 2010

New York City agrees World Trade Centre toxic dust payout

By Mireya Navarro

A settlement of up to $657.5 million has been reached in the cases of thousands of rescue and cleanup workers at ground zero who sued the city over damage to their health, according to city officials and lawyers for the plaintiffs.

They said that the settlement would compensate about 10,000 plaintiffs according to the severity of their illnesses and the level of their exposure to contaminants at the World Trade Center site.

Lawyers from both sides met on Thursday to discuss the terms of the settlement with Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Payouts to the plaintiffs would come out of a federally financed insurance company with funds of about $1.1 billion that insures the city. At least 95 percent of the plaintiffs must accept its terms for it to take effect. If 100 percent of the plaintiffs agree to the terms, the total settlement would be $657.5 million. But if only the required 95 percent agreed, the total would shrink to $575 million.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs estimated that individual settlement amounts would vary from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million for the most serious injuries.

The settlement, which took two years to negotiate, raises the prospect of an end to years of complex and politically charged litigation that has pitted angry victims against city officials, who questioned the validity of some claims and argued that the city should be immune from liability.

“This is a good settlement,” said Marc Bern, a lawyer with a firm that represents more than 9,000 plaintiffs, “and we are gratified that these heroic men and women who performed their duties without consideration of the health implications will finally receive just compensation for their pain and suffering, lost wages, medical and other expenses, as the U.S. Congress intended when it appropriated this money.”

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