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$657mln deal for sick Ground Zero workers

12 marca, 2010

More than 10,000 people who worked in the toxic chaos of New York\'s Ground Zero after 9/11 could receive compensation totaling 657 million dollars for health problems under a deal reached Thursday.

Thousands of plaintiffs, mostly firefighters, police and construction workers, have sued the city for what they say are health problems connected to work in the debris of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

On Thursday, the head of an insurance company that was funded with federal dollars to insure New York City against claims by many of the plaintiffs related said a potential deal to pay out up to 657 million dollars (479 million euros) had been reached.

"We have reached a settlement that is fair under difficult and complicated circumstances," said Christine LaSala, president of WTC Captive Insurance company, which holds one billion dollars in federal funds set aside for health related claims stemming from the clean-up, recovery and restoration efforts.

"This agreement enables workers and volunteers claiming injury from the WTC site operations to obtain compensation commensurate with the nature of their injuries and the strength of their claims, while offering added protection against possible future illness."

The WTC Captive insurance firm was created with a one billion dollar federal government grant to insure New York City and its debris removal contractors in the aftermath of 9/11.

City officials had been unable to secure an adequate coverage in the commercial insurance market for the World Trade Center site rescue, recovery and debris removal work.

LaSala, who hailed the plaintiffs\' "heroic efforts in the rescue, recovery and debris removal work" said the goal of the insurance fund had been to find "a pathway to a just solution" for more than 10,000 people who filed lawsuits.

City leaders in New York also praised the deal.

"The resolution of the World Trade Center litigation will allow the first responders and workers to be compensated for injuries suffered following their work at Ground Zero," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Since September 11th, the city has moved aggressively to provide medical treatment to those who were present at Ground Zero, and we will continue our commitment to treatment and monitoring," the mayor added.

But not all the litigants felt the same way.

Former New York firefighter Kenny Specht told CNN that he was skeptical about the city\'s motives in settling.

"This settlement comes from the Captive Insurance fund, which has been around now since about 2003," said Specht who was diagnosed in 2008 with thyroid cancer when he was just 30 years old.

"My wait-and-see attitude comes from the fact that we have been pushing members of Congress to pass the September 11th Health and Compensation Act which would have let 5.4 billion dollars for compensation," he said.

"My question to the city is why didn\'t they settle these lawsuits earlier than they have now?"

Specht added: "You can\'t put a price on your health. I hope this settlement was, indeed, done the right way and I hope it was done with people\'s health, safety and future in mind, to be honest with you, and not the bottom dollar."

To recover funds under the settlement, each plaintiff will have to submit proof that he or she was present at and participated in the rescue, recovery and debris removal operations.

Officials said they will have to provide specific medical documentation and a physician\'s diagnosis confirming their illness or injury.

The company said Thursday that 95 percent of plaintiffs must sign off on the preliminary deal for the money to be paid out.

Plaintiffs, who must submit sworn evidence of their injuries or illness, have 90 days to review the settlement and decide whether to accept.