NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge has given thousands of 9/11 rescue and recovery workers more time to join a legal settlement that would pay millions of dollars to people sickened by dust from the World Trade Center, if enough of them agree to the deal.

Men and women who participated in the ground zero cleanup initially had until the end of the day Monday to decide whether to join a deal that would pay at least $625 million to people who developed illnesses after working in the rubble.

But after a “huge influx” of people filed paperwork related to the settlement in the days before the deadline, lawyers representing the city agreed to extend the deadline for another week. Workers will have until Nov. 16 to sign on, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein decided.

The deal, struck in the spring, remains tentative. Under its terms, the settlement only takes effect if at least 95 percent of the workers agree to sign on.

A lawyer for about 9,000 of the workers, Paul Napoli, told The Associated Press on Friday that the plaintiffs were very close to hitting that target, but the final results may not be known for days. Related settlements could raise the total compensation for the workers to as much as $815 million.

Hellerstein, who has been overseeing the litigation, issued a gag order late Monday barring the attorneys involved in the case from talking to the media about how the tally had gone.

He wrote that he was doing so “to avoid confusion and speculation flowing from the dissemination of incomplete information.”

In his order, he said a “huge influx of claims” in the final days before the deadline had taxed the system he and the lawyers had set up to handle the mountain of required paperwork.

Initially, all of the necessary documents were supposed to be uploaded to a court-authorized website by 11:59 p.m. Monday. That deadline has now been extended to Nov. 18.

Hellerstein asked the lawyers in the case to report the results to him first, and said he would release their findings on the court’s Web site “promptly” once they do so.

More than 10,000 construction workers, police officers and firefighters have sued the city and a long list of companies over their handling of the cleanup of lower Manhattan after 9/11.

Medical studies have suggested that exposure to the dust may have led to respiratory problems for many of the workers. In the lawsuits, they have blamed city officials for sending people to the site without proper protective equipment.

It isn’t clear what would happen if the 95 percent participation threshold wasn’t met. The special insurance entity defending the city in the case could then declare the settlement dead, but nothing would prevent it from relaxing the requirement slightly if it wished.

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

Comments (4)
  1. BD says:

    I want justice–Along with many many many others who participated in Ground Zero cleanup. I have been fighting for the last few months to get reimbursement for thousands of dollars worth of medical bills due to illnesses caused from exposure to this ‘dust’ and haven’t gotten a cent. As a former WTC volunteer I JUST found out about this lawsuit. Is it too late for many of us suffering to be involved, or is this suit simply for those who got paid and subsequently suffered after their work duty? Not to minimize the facts; but EVERYONE who worked OR VOLUNTEERED should be involved in some sort of compensation. While serving with the Red Cross at the WTC site, When I inquired that I felt we should have masks, the supervisors said “no one ever said anything to us about it”. Who’s to say what will occur down the road for any of us that helped out at the site. I saw some workers wearing respirators blocks away from the site. They were probably the lucky ones, IF they wore them ALL of the time.
    I bet if the volunteers pooled together, we could hire a lawyer who could fight for us poor humanitarians. It’s always about the money (and politics) for those who win. I would be happy to lose if I could just live longer without any adverse respiratory effects. If you have any suggestions, on how we could become plaintiffs please send an email to this address. A female volunteer

  2. Erwin Kirbach says:

    Mike, this is not a labor union action against the city, we work and live there. The lawsuit does not represent the vast majority of workers who spent thousands of hours doing the WTC cleanup. They are the people who have had the most hours of exposure and have have suffered the consequenses.We were not the hero`s, we were the people that got the job done.

  3. Mike says:

    Unless this cover or includes those who are sick and missed the statue of limitation for suing, the judge should not accept a deal. Many peopel who worked or volunteered, let alone those who lived or worked in the area are sick and they are excluded. THis is a labor union action against the city and agencies. Just another way for them to get a cut of the pie.

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