2010-10-08 / Top Stories

Mayor Urges Families To Join 911 Fund

On Monday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg joined former Special Master of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Kenneth R. Feinberg and several 9/11 responders to encourage lawsuit plaintiffs to accept the guaranteed, fair and prompt compensation offered by the $712.5 million settlement agreement. In the version of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed by the House, plaintiffs who accept the settlement will still be eligible for a re-opened Victim Compensation Fund if it is passed by the Senate and signed into law.

“The settlement would provide those who came to the City’s aid and their loved ones with prompt and certain relief in an amount and fashion that the judge in this case, Judge Hellerstein, has found to be fair and reasonable,” said Bloomberg. “We have no desire to be fighting in court with those who acted unselfishly and heroically in response to that attack, both on 9/11 and in its aftermath. Those who accept the settlement will still be eligible to apply for additional compensation if they accept the settlement before the Zadroga bill becomes law. Litigation will almost certainly stretch on for many years – with legal fees and expenses eating away at the resources available for compensation awards.”

The Mayor was joined by several plaintiffs who are accepting the settlement, including retired Detective Joseph Greco and Jean Marie DiBiase, whose husband, Mark, died of interstitial lung disease in 2006 after working as a contractor at the Fresh Kills site in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks.

“Many of us can’t afford to keep this going several more years. We need closure now. By opting into this settlement you have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Greco said. “Not only will you be compensated now and get a free cancer insurance policy, but if the James Zadroga bill passes, which all of us are hopeful it will, you will be able to collect additional money from that. If we don’t take the settlement, we have a chance of our claims being thrown out and ending up with nothing or several more years of appeals.”

“To those families considering this settlement, I say do it,” said DiBiase. “We need to live each day to the fullest. That is also why this settlement is a good thing. It allows all of us to do that and not think about litigation. I know what my husband did and what all the responders did was not for themselves, but for our city and our country. We need to come together again and put an end to this litigation that is dividing us.”

Also standing with the Mayor was retired firefighter Dana Schiavo and Jessica Spaulding, daughter of Elizabeth Burnett, a contractor with interstitial lung disease.

On Tuesday afternoon there will be a settlement conference with Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, who is presiding over the 10,800 claims.

The Mayor and the 9/11 responders were joined at the event by Kenneth R. Feinberg, former Special Master of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, who will be the Claims Appeal Neutral under the settlement agreement.

“This is a carefully crafted settlement designed to be fair to all that people should accept,” said Feinberg. “All sides have worked extremely hard to reach a fair settlement. The plaintiffs’ attorneys who took these cases when no one else would are limiting their fees to 25 percent, which is far less than in litigation. This settlement has some advantages over the VCF, because people will get minimum payments very quickly, simply by filing their claim form showing that they worked at the site. If the Senate passes the Zadroga bill, plaintiffs will be still be eligible for the VCF under the bill. But the settlement requires 95 percent of the people to accept its terms by November 8, just four short weeks away. Why wait? You’ve waited 7 years already. It’s time for closure.”

Under the settlement, individual awards would range from several thousand dollars to nearly $2 million, depending on the extent of injuries sustained and how closely related they could possibly be proven to be to the operations at the World Trade Center sites. All qualifying plaintiffs will be enrolled in a special insurance policy through MetLife to provide coverage for certain blood and respiratory cancers diagnosed during the coverage period. The court is currently urging other defendants in these cases to join the settlement, which could add many millions more to compensation available.

Plaintiffs who opt out and proceed with litigation will face uncertain outcomes and heavy expenses. In addition, the City and some insurance companies that have been paying plaintiffs’ workers compensation have agreed to forego repayment, which they are entitled to under the law. That alone is worth another $50 million in compensation to the plaintiffs, in addition to the settlement amounts.

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