9/11 workers face deadline for health settlement

Oklahoman Published: November 7, 2010
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NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

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.

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.

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