NEW YORK (AP/1010 WINS) — Thousands of laborers, police officers and firefighters suing New York City over their exposure to toxic World Trade Center dust have until Monday to decide whether to join a legal settlement that could ultimately pay them as much as $815 million.

More than 10,000 people have sued the city and a long list of companies that handled the massive cleanup of lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks.

Many claim to be suffering from illnesses caused by inhaling the pulverized remnants of the twin towers. Their lawsuits blame the government and its contractors for failing to provide proper equipment to protect their lungs.

1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reports

The vast bulk of the litigation could be over on Monday.

Paul Napoli, a leader of the legal team representing most of the plaintiffs, told The Associated Press on Friday that with Monday’s deadline looming on the largest and most important of several related settlements, 90 percent of those eligible had said “yes” to the deal.

An all-out effort was being made to get the rest to join on, he said. He said he and other lawyers in the firm were being besieged with questions from clients still trying to chose between taking the money, or rejecting it and taking their case to trial.

“A lot of people appear to be making a last minute decision,” he said. “It’s like tax day … there is going to be a lot of last minute wrangling.”

Under the terms of the deal, at least 95 percent of the plaintiffs must opt to participate for the settlement to become effective. Napoli said he was feeling good about hitting the target, although he added that getting the paperwork finished for each claim by midnight on the deadline will be no small feat.

“I’m hopeful there will be a little leeway,” he said.

If responders don’t opt in, they are legally on their own, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.

The best option for the responders could be the passage of the 9/11 Health Care and Compensation Act. But those who opt out of the settlement with the city cannot be a part of it.

Retired NYPD officer Glen Klein is part of what he hopes will be 95 percent saying ‘yes’ to the offer.

“I don’t really want to see it fall below 95 percent because everybody who is involved in this lawsuit is going wind up having to go court and litigate and you may not see the courtroom for another 10 years,” Klein told Rincon.

Opting in, however, means not knowing the amount of compensation they will receive. The decision would also preclude responders from being able to sue the city down the road.

That’s a tough decision for many of those whose health has only gotten worse in the last nine years.

“I don’t foresee them getting better, I would foresee them getting sicker in the future,” Klein said.

The Monday deadline technically applies only to a settlement negotiated between Napoli’s legal team and the city’s attorneys in the spring. That deal would distribute as much as $712 million among the workers, based on the severity of their illnesses and the likelihood they could be linked to the 9/11 attacks.

But since that deal was inked, the firm has worked out similar agreements with other defendants in the case, including the agency that owns the World Trade Center site, that will add to the total value of the pot.

An insurance company that represented the operators of barges that carried rubble from Manhattan to Staten Island after the attacks has agreed to settle for $28 million, Napoli said. Other entities, including those involved in the debris-sorting operation at the city’s Fresh Kills landfill, have agreed in principle on settlements that will add another $100 million, he said.

Some rescue and recovery workers who had been outspoken critics of the deal early on have decided in the end to sign.

Retired Fire Department Lt. Kenny Specht, who now leads a fraternal group for New York firefighters, was among them.

Like others, he said the payments responders will receive under the deal will never be enough to compensate for their illnesses. But he called the settlement, “the best we were going to do.”

Fighting for more money in court, he said, seemed like it could wind up a losing battle, in part because “the shelf life” of sympathy for 9/11 responders is running out.

“I felt in my bones that it was expiring,” he said.

He added that he was also concerned about the difficulty of trying to prove that common illnesses like cancer were caused by trade center dust. So far, scientists studying the issue has yet to find any such link.

“We are nine years outside of Sept. 11, and we live in a very technologically advanced time,” he said. “If nine years after the fact, they have still not attributed the cancers that are killing us to 9/11, either they have that information, and there is no way they are going to publish it, or there just isn’t a correlation.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (11)
  1. Tony says:

    The greed shown by the people that signed on to this settlement is appaling and very sad indeed, and this is from someone who was there and has cancer, but I refused to participate in this outrageous settlement.

  2. Al says:

    Your article states:

    The best hope for the responders could be the passage of the 9/11 Health Care and Compensation Act. But those who opt out of the settlement with the city cannot be a part of it.”

    Absolutely untrue!
    Get your facts straight, or do you have an agenda and are trying to influence the uninformed?

    I will not opt in, and will reserve my right to sue should I become gravely ill in the future due to my 60 days at ground zero, while being informed by the EPA that the air was safe.

  3. Georges Delarue says:

    So we who live downtown during this horror and suffered from the
    same conditions while at home,get zero…I’m alright with that.
    The person responsible for a lot of this illness and has NOT been held
    accountable is Ex New Jersey Gov.Whitman who ran the EPA at that
    time.She kept saying the air was safe,so that they could clean up the
    site and whisk away. She is responsible for this lie that conditions down
    there on 9-11-01 were safe on September 11th and the following weeks.
    Ditto our own NYC healthcare officials.

  4. Patricia says:

    Steve you are correct in one aspect. They did do a good deed. They didn’t think of themselves. They didn’t ask for money when they did that.

    Now many of them are very sick, some terminal, because of doing the good deed.

    You not understanding that these are people who need us. Many of them saved lives or looked for a loved one to give family closure.

    You not seeing that makes me want to puke. Shame on you.


    1. Tony says:

      Patricia I was one of the ones who responded and I have cancer. What makes me want to puke is the greed that is shown by my fellow workers. Where does it end!

  5. Mie says:

    Many other people are sick that are not part of the case. Most of these participants are union members. Anything more to say?

  6. steve says:

    I’ve got 5 bullet holes from doing WHAT WAS RIGHT!!!!!!! I”M SCARRED for life from it!!!! And that from 2 different times!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I got thank you’s and that was ALL I NEEDED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THIS is WRONG VERY WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Steve says:

    HERO”S????? HOW DO YOU CALL someone a HERO!!!!! THAT wants MONEY for doing a GOOD DEED?????????? THIS makes me PUKE!!!!!!!!!!

  8. dave says:

    what is this toxicity exactly?

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