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Judge says World Trade Center settlement needs more work

By The CNN Wire Staff
The category of illnesses the 10,000 workers claim to have suffered would affect the payout.
The category of illnesses the 10,000 workers claim to have suffered would affect the payout.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Settlement is for people sickened after working on the World Trade Center site
  • Judge says proposal needs to be negotiated further
  • Judge wants legal fees lowered, among other issues
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New York (CNN) -- A federal judge said Friday that he will not approve a proposed $657 million settlement for people sickened after working on the World Trade Center site until it is negotiated further.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said legal fees must be lowered and paid by an insurance fund set up by the city, individual plaintiffs must be given a proposed dollar amount before being asked to opt in or out of the proposal and Hellerstein himself must supervise how plaintiffs' claims are categorized.

The category of illnesses the 10,000 workers claim to have suffered would affect the payout.

Hellerstein's remarks came after 10 plaintiffs offered a variety of views at the settlement hearing. The judge had moved the proceeding to a larger courtroom than the one he usually uses to accommodate the many lawyers and plaintiffs involved.

He has set a final hearing for April 12. Ninety-five percent of the plaintiffs must agree to the proposal for it to be finalized.

The proposed agreement comes after six years of legal wrangling -- a sometimes excruciating wait for his clients, said Marc Bern, one of the lawyers representing the workers. Many of his clients worked rescuing victims from the terrorist attack or removing debris after the World Trade Center toppled. Later, some found their health deteriorated, with many suffering from asthma, other respiratory issues and blood cancer, Bern said last week.

WTC Captive, created with a $1 billion federal grant, provides insurance coverage to New York City and its debris-removal contractors. In the aftermath of 9/11, New York was unable to get adequate amounts of liability insurance on the private market for the rescue, recovery and debris-removal work done at the World Trade Center site.

The settlement would provide a system to compensate workers who made injury claims. This would include construction workers, firefighters, police officers and other workers and volunteers. The settlement also would fund a special insurance policy providing additional compensation to any plaintiff contracting certain types of cancer in the future.

If the judge gives his OK next month, Bern's law firm would send letters to the plaintiffs to tell them what money they are eligible for. "The payments could range from thousands of dollars to nearly $2 million for clients," Bern said last week. To make a claim, plaintiffs would have to submit proof they were present and participated in the post-9/11 efforts.

They also will have to present specific medical documentation, including a diagnosis confirming their illness or injury. After the 9/11 attacks, individuals who worked or volunteered in the rescue, recovery and debris-removal project have received free medical care funded by New York City and the federal government. Participating in the settlement would not affect access to that care.

CNN's Hussein Saddique in New York contributed to this report.

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