Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
More than 10,000 rescue and recovery workers who filed a lawsuit against New York City have given their approval to a multi-million dollar legal settlement with the city, clearing the way for cash payouts to begin.
The Ground Zero workers sued the city because of health problems linked to the rescue of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the clean-up of the rubble at the World Trade Center. The plaintiffs claimed a variety of ailments, ranging from stomach pains to respiratory illness, to cancer. Some had even sought damages to cover the possibility they could become ill.
More than nine years after the attacks, the city will now pay the workers damages amounting to at least $625 million. There are 10,043 plaintiffs that accepted the terms of the settlement, while 520 declined the offer. Individual workers could collect as little as a few thousand dollars, or more than $1 million, depending on the severity of their illness.
In June, the plaintiff’s attorneys volunteered to take a 25 percent fee reduction.
"Perhaps we can take the money that we're being offered at this time and build upon it to recover more of our lives," said telecommunications specialist Tom Maguire, who moved rubble at Ground Zero, and suffered respiratory and knee injuries. He says the money from the settlement isn't enough, but it's time to move on.
Richard Prager, an ironworker who suffered back, shoulder and neck injuries, opted out of the settlement so he could sue for a more generous damage award than was offered.
"Personally I feel insulted having to sue for something such as this. I should have been taken care of from the beginning," Prager said.
“This settlement is a fair and just resolution of these claims, protecting those who came to the aid of this City when we needed it most,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. "This settlement can also help encourage the Senate to follow the lead of their colleagues in the House of Representatives and pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which will now be a less expensive proposition due to the payments made under this settlement agreement.”
More than 95 percent of plaintiffs had to give their approval for the settlement to take effect. Officials encouraged them to opt in, partly because of the difficulty of litigating so many claims individually.
Those who didn't sign still have the right to sue the city.
Correction: WNYC originally stated that lawyers’ fees could consume as much as a third of the cash reward, but with the lawyers' voluntary reduction it will be much less.