10,563 ground zero workers who inhaled toxic dust and risked health consequences have agreed on a $625 settlement and ceased suing - the amount could go as high as $815 million. 520 individuals have rejected the offer. However, the required minimum 95% of workers accepting the offer was reached, so the settlement went through. There was a Tuesday night deadline for the 95%, which Marc Berns, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said was just reached.
In March 200, Alvin Hellerstein, a District Court Judge, turned down a previous settlement, saying it did not address the workers' illnesses adequately. Then, a week ago as the deadline loomed, the same judge extended it by another week. He had actually encouraged the workers to accept it by saying "This is a very good deal." Yesterday's settlement comes after 7 years of wrangling between rescue workers and the city.
The workers, including firefighters, police personnel, and other rescue personnel claimed they were sent into harm's way without adequate protection during their clean-up and rescue operations. A considerable number of them have subsequently experienced health problems, including various cancers and respiratory diseases.
Michael Bloomberg, New York City Mayor, said:
- "This settlement is a fair and just resolution of these claims, protecting those who came to the aid of this city when we needed it most."
An insurance company which represents the City of New York was set up to negotiate with the plaintiffs. The company also represents over 100 companies and suppliers during the 24-month clean-up operation.
Some non-smoking workers may receive up to $1m dollars in compensation for respiratory illnesses they have acquired.
New York Reps. (members of Congress) Jerrold Nadler, Peter King and Carolyn Maloney said in a joint statement:
- "The agreement reached today on the 9/11 settlement is a positive step for many ailing first responders - but the problem isn't over. Nearly everyone agrees that the settlement does not provide adequate funding to fully compensate those who are injured among the more than 10,500 plaintiffs in this case, nor does it cover the tens of thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors who are injured but have not filed lawsuits."
Lawyers say the number of people participating in this settlement could rise during the next few weeks.
Written by Christian Nordqvist