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Ground Zero Workers Reach Deal On Claims

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Ground Zero Workers Reach Deal On Claims

Law

Ground Zero Workers Reach Deal On Claims

Ground Zero Workers Reach Deal On Claims

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New York City has reached a settlement with first responders and ground zero workers who were sickened by the dust from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The $657 million package was negotiated by a special entity created to head off lawsuits against the city and its contractors. The plan still needs to be approved by a judge and the workers.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Robert Smith has been talking with people involved in the case and he joins us now from New York. Good morning.

ROBERT SMITH: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And rescue workers who claim they were affected by the smoke and dust filed claims years ago. Some of the workers have since died. Why did this settlement take so long?

SMITH: So, when you started to talk about legal liability, this became a very, very complex case. And then there wasn't just one set of illnesses either. I mean, some of these people started to come down with the World Trade Center cough, immediately. Others didn't get things like respiratory disease and cancer until years later. And all through this process, the city is playing hardball. They're saying we don't know how you got these illnesses and you can't definitely link them. Now, the first of these cases were about to come to trial and that's apparently what spurred this final settlement.

MONTAGNE: And Robert, this settlement - the final settlement - there's a few numbers involved, but it could total up to $657 million.

SMITH: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: But I gather it's not really New York City that's paying, but federal money.

SMITH: And so this payout, should it happen will be a really big deal because this will really be the biggest chunk of money that's gone to the actual workers on the clean up, and not just to lawyers.

MONTAGNE: And some of those workers will get more than others, right?

SMITH: Yeah. There's a whole set of guidelines that they've developed over the last 22 months, the lawyers have. And it's basically every worker will be considered individually, by a third party master, who'll be assigned. And they'll look at a whole set of point values, you know: how severe are their ailments? Is it just the cough? Can they not sleep at night? Or do they have a risk of cancer or even some of these workers have died? And then the most important part is they have to figure out how responsible was the clean up. Did these people smoke? Were they overweight? Had they been exposed to other toxic chemicals? What role did ground zero play in their case? And this will be determined and the payouts will go from anything, you know, a few thousand dollars to upwards of a million dollars.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, the deal was reached between various sets of lawyers. What kind of say, do the ground zero workers get in the deal?

SMITH: Well, they have 90 days, each individual worker, to look at the details and say yes or no to the settlement. Now, 95 percent have to approve this deal in order for all of them to get the money, and if that doesn't happen, then the lawsuits are all back on.

MONTAGNE: And even more briefly, if 95 percent of ground zero workers do approve, are there still other cases pending? Yes?

SMITH: There is. There is a lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York, and those other money that needs to be set aside for future cancer cases.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Robert Smith, talking to us from New York. Thanks very much.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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