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By LARRY NEUMEISTER source: SF Chronicle April 15, 2010
The city and contractors who handled the cleanup of the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attacks on Wednesday notified a court they are appealing a judge’s decision to block a $575 million settlement of claims by thousands of workers who fell ill.
Lawyers for the city and the contractors filed papers with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge several orders by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein that had the effect of blocking implementation of the deal.
Hellerstein demanded changes in the settlement, including adding millions of dollars more for the sick and reducing the cost of legal fees.
The judge said he had a moral obligation to the 9/11 workers.
James E. Tyrrell Jr., an attorney for the city and the contractors it hired after the terrorist attacks, said in a release that Hellerstein’s orders were “impeding the progress we have made and are destroying the ability to provide compensation now to deserving plaintiffs through a settlement process.”
He added: “We believe the judge does not have the legal authority to order the terms of a settlement for these parties.”
Hellerstein acknowledged at a March hearing that he was breaking with legal tradition because judges usually do not interfere with private settlements.
“Most settlements are private. A plaintiff and defendant come together, shake hands, and it’s done with,” he said.
“This is different,” he said. “This is 9/11.”
The settlement was announced last month by lawyers representing nearly 10,000 people who had worked to clean up the site where the twin 110-story towers collapsed after they were struck by hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001. Lawsuits filed on behalf of the workers blamed injuries ranging from respiratory ailments to cancer on work done at the site.
The deal interrupted plans for the first trials, which were to begin in mid-May.
Marc Bern, a lawyer representing about 9,000 individuals with injury claims, said he does not oppose the city’s appeal.
“We don’t believe it is the judge’s right or authority to make a determination as to this settlement. It is the right of the injured people to make that determination,” he said.
Bern added: “Overwhelmingly, right up until this very moment, our clients want this settlement. We feel that we have a valid settlement offer. Our clients are looking for closure. They do not want to wait another day. It’s time to resolve and end this litigation.”