Sullivan’s Court The 9/11 Zadroga Bill Victim Compensation Fund
Approaching the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country, thoughts turn to the reality that families were forever ripped apart and society perpetually altered by terrorists who were hell-bent on destroying the very freedoms we as a Nation cherish. Rest assured they have failed miserably at their chosen evil mission. However, it goes without saying that the pain of those lost will never cease and others still suffer physically as medical conditions continue to be diagnosed in people who were near the site of the attacks.
I gave much thought to whether I wanted to touch the emotional topic of 9/11 in a legal column. It is a topic on which I rarely engage in, even on a level of casual conversation. After discussions with people who suffer from 9/11 related illnesses that only recently developed, I was encouraged to write the article as a way to help inform people who may benefit from the current Victim Compensation Fund. My law partner, James Galleshaw, and I, for personal reasons, made a conscious decision 12 years ago that we would not profit from any 9/11 related legal work and that the assistance we offered would be done on a pro-bono basis. We still maintain that position today, and continue to assist those who need guidance on the issue. We do not begrudge attorneys or others who receive compensation. I hope this article serves as a brief overview and guide for anyone who may need to apply for compensation as a result of a 9/11 related illness.
What is the new Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)?
You have probably heard of the “Zadroga Bill”, which is formally called the “Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.” This law signed into effect in January 2011 reactivates the “September 11th Victim Compensation Fund” that was established in 2001 and operated until 2004. It is a taxpayer funded government program. Congress has appropriated $2.7 billion for the fund. The fund provides compensation for individuals (or a representative of a deceased) that suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 or the debris removal efforts that took place in the aftermath of the attacks. Awards consist of economic and non-economic loss.
Who is eligible for the new VCF?
Anyone who was at the September 11th “sites” (I’ll define this below) at the time of the attacks or between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002, and suffered physical harm as a result of the attacks or debris removal. Many have suffered latent health conditions and illnesses, which were barred from compensation under the old fund because they developed after 2004 or the illnesses were not part of the initial fund. Now they may be eligible for compensation. The list of covered conditions is fairly extensive but may expand further in time. For example, the fund covers common conditions such as sleep apnea, chronic laryngitis, low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome to far more deadly illnesses like 60+ types of specified cancers and any cancer deemed “rare,” such that there are only 200,000 reported cases per year in the US. Many cancers were not added to the approved list until October 2012 and in July 2013 prostate cancer was added.
What are the 9/11 sites?
Under the VCF the 9/11 sites include; The World Trade Center; The Pentagon and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania site; buildings that were destroyed as a result of the attacks; The NYC Exposure Zone which is deemed as all of lower Manhattan south of Canal Street from the Hudson River to Clinton Street on the east side to the East River and below; any area “related to, or along, routes of debris removal,” such as barges and Fresh Kills and the morgue. This is a significantly larger impact area than the original fund.
When is the filing deadline?
Those who were aware of their illness before October 3, 2011, have a two year deadline in which to register, thus October 3, 2013. If you learned of your injury after October 2011, you must register within two years but no claims will be accepted beyond October 12, 2014. Once registered, the fund advises on how and when to submit supporting documentation, including proof you were in the impacted areas during the covered dates, medical records and out-of-pocket expenses.
Does this apply only to “First Responders”?
No, you do not have to be a responder to be eligible. Under the Zadroga Act, to receive a payment from the new VCF, any individual who was at a 9/11 crash site between the time of the crashes and May 30, 2002 is eligible.
If I applied to the original fund, can I apply again now?
Yes, anyone who submitted claims to the original VCF may submit new claims if the individual suffered a new injury that is eligible; the individual’s prior eligible condition has substantially worsened and resulted in damages or loss that was not previously compensated; the individual’s illness was not previously eligible but is now eligible as a result of the increased illnesses covered by the Zadroga Act.
Do I need a lawyer to participate in the VCF?
No! Once more…NO. You are not required to hire a lawyer. Sullivan & Galleshaw is probably the only firm that discourages the hiring of a lawyer. The fund offers assistance through seminars and web-based videos and many offer free help in completing the claims. If you choose to hire a lawyer, the fund will not reimburse you for fees charged by the lawyer. Such fees are paid by the claimant. A lawyer may not charge more than 10% of the amount the Claimant’s award.