Ground Zero workers win $657m compensation fight
Settlement reached after years of wrangling
More than 10,000 workers who say they suffered health problems from the toxic conditions at Ground Zero after the September 11 terror attacks have won compensation of $657.5m (e478m) in a deal ending years of legal fighting.
In a court battle that has cast an acrimonious shadow over memories of the tragedy, thousands of firefighters, police, contractors and volunteers have long sought compensation for the effects of dust from the World Trade Centre site.
They were resisted by officials, who challenged the credibility of some claims and maintained that the city should not be liable in any way.
In 2008, the city prompted fury when it argued that a third of the thousands of the litigants had minor health problems such as runny noses and insomnia. Officials have also alleged some claims were for ailments that existed before 9/11.
The settlement, which took two years to negotiate, went before a judge, although both sides in the dispute indicated they supported it.
The money will come from an insurance fund, the WTC Captive Insurance Company, which was set up with a $1bn (e720m) federal grant in 2004 to indemnify the city and private companies against potential law suits as they cleaned up the site in Lower Manhattan.
Under the deal, awards would range from several thousand dollars to more than a million, depending on the severity of the medical problem and the extent of the claimant's exposure to contaminants.
The first trials related to the dispute were due to start in May, including that of Raymond Hauber, a 47-year-old firefighter who died of oesophageal cancer in 2007 before his case could be heard.
Thousands of workers sued the city, claiming it sent them to the 16-acre site without proper protective equipment.
Many of those who have fallen ill say they are suffering from a respiratory problem similar to asthma but hundreds of other ailments, including even cancer, have been reported.
James Nolan (45), a carpenter from Yonkers, New York, said he helped recover bodies and build ramps for fire hoses at the site, only to develop lung and leg problems for which he takes six medications.
He sued six years ago because he believed the city knew that the air was dirty but still allowed him to go.
"We've had to fight for what we deserve. I'm glad it's coming to an end where I can feel a little comfortable if I pass away, my wife and kids can get something," he said.
Other claimants questioned why the city had not settled earlier. The delay has inevitably depleted the $1bn fund created by Congress to insure the city, with the legal bill so far running to more than $200m (e145m).
New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg said the deal was a "fair and reasonable resolution to a complex set of circumstances".
Marc Bern, a lawyer for a firm that represents 9,000 of the plaintiffs, said it was a "good settlement".
He said: "We are gratified that these heroic men and women will finally receive just compensation for their pain and suffering, lost wages, medical and other expenses."
The settlement will need to have the approval of at least 95pc of the plaintiffs, who would thereby be giving up their right to sue the city and its contractors for any further claims.
They will then need to prove to an independent claims evaluator that they had been at the site or other places that handled the debris, handing over medical records so that officials can weed out any fraudulent claims.
Claims have covered illnesses, such as asthma, that workers say they have developed after spending days, weeks or months working at the World Trade Centre site.