Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Ground Zero Deal Gives Plaintiffs $712.5 Million

New Ground Zero Deal Gives Plaintiffs $712.5 Million
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 10, 2010

The city and about 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers at ground zero said Thursday that they had negotiated a new settlement under which the city’s insurer kicks in more money and the plaintiffs’ lawyers reduce their legal fees to give the workers more compensation for health damages.

A federal judge rejected an earlier settlement in March. After nearly three months of renegotiations, the city’s insurer, the WTC Captive Insurance Company, has agreed to increase its payout to plaintiffs to $712.5 million. The previous terms called for payouts of $575 million to $657.5 million.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers have also agreed to reduce their fees to a maximum of 25 percent of the settlement amount, down from the 33.33 percent called for in contingency agreements that their clients signed. As a result, the plaintiffs will get to keep an additional $50 million, the lawyers said. .

“This settlement ensures guaranteed, immediate and just compensation to the heroic men and women who performed their duties without consideration of the health implications,” said Marc J. Bern, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“Our commitment to our clients has never wavered in the seven years since we took on this litigation and we have done everything within our power, including reducing the fees we agreed to with each of our clients, to achieve the best possible outcome,” he said.

The parties went back to the negotiating table in March after their original settlement was rejected by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of United States District Court in Manhattan, who has been overseeing the cases since 2003. The judge said the old accord did not offer enough compensation to the plaintiffs and that the lawyers were getting too big a cut.

The workers sued the city and its contractors over respiratory illnesses and other injuries they say they suffered at the World Trade Center site because they were not given protective equipment or adequate supervision.

The city filed papers with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to challenge Judge Hellerstein’s authority to block the settlement. But at the same time, its lawyers sought to accommodate him to salvage the agreement, which has to be approved by 95 percent of the plaintiffs.

Judge Hellerstein was kept informed of the newly negotiated terms and has indicated that he believes that the modified settlement is “fair and reasonable,” according to a statement released by the lawyers.

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