Nearly 10,000 workers who were exposed to toxic contaminants while cleaning up Ground Zero have settled with the city for as much as $675.5 million. The money will come from a federally financed insurance fund worth $1.1 billion protecting the city, which has been arguing all along that it can’t be held responsible for the aftermath of a national emergency.
The burden of deciding on specific dollar amounts for each plaintiff now falls to a claims administrator who will use a point system to account for each individual’s level of exposure and medical background, including his or her smoking history. This part of the process alone could take another year. Workers who have suffered the most serious injuries, sometimes death, will receive upwards of $1 million, while the plaintiffs’ legal fees will account for at least one-third of the settlement money.
Mindful of the intense public interest in the cases, Judge Hellerstein has told lawyers on both sides that he planned to review each settlement and hold “fairness” hearings to determine whether the settlements were reasonable, which legal experts said was unusual for litigation not involving a class action.
It’s going to be a while before anybody sees a dime.