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'Ground Zero' workers reach deal on claims
AFP March 12, 2010 5:02 AM
AFP NEW YORK - More than 10,000 people who worked in the toxic chaos of New York's Ground Zero after 9/11 could receive compensation totaling 657 million dollars for health problems under a deal reached Thursday.
Thousands of plaintiffs, mostly firefighters, police and construction workers, have sued the city for what they say are health problems connected to work in the debris of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
On Thursday, the head of an insurance company that was funded with federal dollars to insure New York City against claims by many of the plaintiffs related said a potential deal to pay out up to 657 million dollars (479 million euros) had been reached.
"We have reached a settlement that is fair under difficult and complicated circumstances," said Christine LaSala, president of WTC Captive Insurance company, which holds one billion dollars in federal funds set aside for health related claims stemming from the clean-up, recovery and restoration efforts.
"This agreement enables workers and volunteers claiming injury from the WTC site operations to obtain compensation commensurate with the nature of their injuries and the strength of their claims, while offering added protection against possible future illness."
The WTC Captive insurance firm was created with a one billion dollar federal government grant to insure New York City and its debris removal contractors in the aftermath of 9/11.
City officials had been unable to secure an adequate coverage in the commercial insurance market for the World Trade Center site rescue, recovery and debris removal work.
LaSala, who hailed the plaintiffs' "heroic efforts in the rescue, recovery and debris removal work" said the goal of the insurance fund had been to find "a pathway to a just solution" for more than 10,000 people who filed lawsuits.
City leaders in New York also praised the deal.
"The resolution of the World Trade Center litigation will allow the first responders and workers to be compensated for injuries suffered following their work at Ground Zero," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Since September 11th, the city has moved aggressively to provide medical treatment to those who were present at Ground Zero, and we will continue our commitment to treatment and monitoring," the mayor added.
But not all the litigants felt the same way.
Former New York firefighter Kenny Specht told CNN that he was skeptical about the city's motives in settling.
"This settlement comes from the Captive Insurance fund, which has been around now since about 2003," said Specht who was diagnosed in 2008 with thyroid cancer when he was just 30 years old.
"My wait-and-see attitude comes from the fact that we have been pushing members of Congress to pass the September 11th Health and Compensation Act which would have let 5.4 billion dollars for compensation," he said.
"My question to the city is why didn't they settle these lawsuits earlier than they have now?"
Specht added: "You can't put a price on your health. I hope this settlement was, indeed, done the right way and I hope it was done with people's health, safety and future in mind, to be honest with you, and not the bottom dollar."
To recover funds under the settlement, each plaintiff will have to submit proof that he or she was present at and participated in the rescue, recovery and debris removal operations.
Officials said they will have to provide specific medical documentation and a physician's diagnosis confirming their illness or injury.
The company said Thursday that 95 per cent of plaintiffs must sign off on the preliminary deal for the money to be paid out.
Plaintiffs, who must submit sworn evidence of their injuries or illness, have 90 days to review the settlement and decide whether to accept.
© Copyright (c) AFP
Discovery of new remains gives hope to some 9/11/01 kin
May 23, 2010 -- James McCaffrey, whose brother-in-law Battalion Chief Orio Palmer of Valley Stream is among the 1,123 missing victims of the World Trade Center, thinks that new finds of human remains may help some families - perhaps even his own. "It does give us some hope we may get something," said McCaffrey, an FDNY lieutenant from Yonkers. "But it shows how little the city has done so far." He, like members of many other families, said the city did not do enough in the immediate aftermath of the September 11,2001 attacks to aggressively find and identify remains. "My concern is that there are areas of Ground Zero that have not been searched," said Sally Regenhard, one of the most vocal September 11 family members on a wide range of issues. Her firefighter son, Christian, is also among the missing. For Rosemary Cain of Massapequa, the city's nearly nine-year forensic operation at Ground Zero seeking to identify remains has been a bureaucratic misadventure. She credits the persistence of the medical examiner's office for helping families like hers recover even small remains of their loved ones, including her son. But Cain is part of a group of family members claiming that some human remains have been commingled with garbage at Fresh Kills landfill. The group is appealing a federal judge's 2008 decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the families against the city. In the suit, the city denies any wrongdoing and said it treated the remains with respect. City officials have defended the pace of the identification process and said they have acted in good faith. The judge said in his decision that the city sought "a swift and efficient recovery" from an unprecedented event. Regenhard lauded FDNY participation at the screening operation of 844 cubic yards of new debris found at Ground Zero. But she thinks in all this time if the search had been done right, with the help of U.S. military forensic experts, all of the remains would have been found.