This is the court case under Judge Alvin Hellerstein, it is not related to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensatiuon Act that recently failed to pass in the House.
source: NY Daily Aug 2, 2010
Growing discontent among 9/11 heroes who sued the city over exposure to toxic air at Ground Zero could scuttle a landmark settlement offer.
A number of first responders, recovery workers and their relatives told the Daily News they will opt out of the $625 million deal because their payouts are too low – and their health care is left in doubt.
“If you sign this thing, you’re not taken care of at all,” said Richard Hand, 47, a retired NYPD Emergency Service Unit officer who logged more than 700 hours at the Pile and now suffers from upper-digestive problems.
Lawyers representing Hand sent a package last week saying his payout offer is $7,500.
He would only collect $4,694 after a 25% lawyer’s fee and other legal expenses.
“For $4,700, they are going to buy you off. That’s just wrong,” Hand said.
The Whitestone, Queens, ex-cop is among the more than 10,000 police officers, firefighters, hardhats and other Ground Zero workers who sued the city because of 9/11-related illnesses or fear that their exposure could lead to future medical problems.
The plaintiffs’ law firms started sending out estimated payouts in the past two weeks.
In order for the settlement to work, at least 95% must accept the offers by Sept. 8.
Opting into the deal prohibits plaintiffs from suing again.
Complicating the decision for some is the House’s failure to pass the Zadroga bill. The feds have promised better compensation and health coverage. The House bill would have allowed victims who opt into the settlement to collect federal coverage as well.
The bill won’t come up for consideration again until after the settlement deadline.
Hand receives a pension after 21 years in the Police Department, but he said if his health worsens, the $4,700 won’t help care for him and his family or pay for medical costs. The deal also comes with a $100,000 insurance policy to cover certain types of cancer, but Hand said that wouldn’t make a dent in expenses.
“Everybody I’m in touch with, they are all saying no to the deal,” he said. “We don’t want to give away our right to sue later on.”
Plaintiffs fall into four tiers based on their medical condition.
Tier 1 plaintiffs have no current illnesses, but fear they could in the future. They make up about 20% of all litigants, and their settlement awards could be as little as $3,250. Those deals shrink to about $1,300 after attorney fees and other expenses. Tier 4 plaintiffs are the sickest and would receive the biggest awards. They comprise about half of all litigants, according to attorneys.
The settlement favors certain illnesses – like pulmonary and respiratory problems – that are easier to link to Ground Zero exposure.
Charles Giles, 42, is in Tier 2, but has yet to receive his package. The bed-ridden former EMT worker suffers from chronic lung and heart problems.
The cash-strapped Ground Zero hero, his wife and two daughters lost their New Jersey home in 2007. He expects to get a settlement offer between $10,000 and $15,000, but won’t take it.
“It’ll be gone in six months,” Giles said. “We want to make sure we have health care there for the rest of our lives, however long that may be. This lawsuit will not do that for us.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the people we have spoken to are accepting the settlement and are gratified to see the long litigation come to an end,” Napoli said.
I’m dying, and desperate for the money
Joseph Picurro is banking on the settlement.
The 43-year-old former ironworker spent 28 days at Ground Zero, and now receives hospice care for a litany of respiratory and digestive illnesses. His doctors say he has six months to live.
As a Tier 4 plaintiff, Picurro is one of the sickest. He has yet to receive his payout offer, but it will likely be one of the biggest. The $2,500 a month Picurro collects in workers’ comp and disability is his family’s only income. He and his wife, Laura, say they need the money to stay afloat, and worry Tier 1 and 2 plaintiffs will ruin the deal.
“My fate shouldn’t be decided by people who think they’re not getting enough,” Picurro said. “They have lives. I have no life, other than taking medication.”
His life’s worth more than $76G
Jennifer McNamara, 42, said the settlement offer is an injustice to her firefighter husband’s memory. John McNamara died of colon cancer last year at age 44. He spent 500 hours digging through rubble at Ground Zero.
In the settlement offer, he was classified as a Tier 4 plaintiff, but she still only stands to receive a $76,000 payout. The amount is low because plaintiffs with cancer are favored less than those with illnesses more readily linked to Ground Zero toxins.
McNamara says the deal is not enough and vows to press on with her lawsuit.
“When I saw that number, I heard him in my head say, ‘What, are you kidding me? For everything I’ve been through, that’s what you want to give me?’ ” she said. “My husband’s life is worth more than $76,000.”