By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — At least 95 percent of first responders who sued the city for injuries and illnesses they sustained after the World Trade Center attack have agreed to a settlement, lawyers for both sides said Friday.
The agreement paves the way for between $625 million and $712 million to be paid to about 10,000 workers who claimed injuries related to rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
"It’s excellent," said Glen Klein, 52, who was a member of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit on 9/11. "People have been waiting for years, using their credit cards."
The city and lawyers for the first responders first came to a settlement back in March that would have paid the plaintiffs between $565 million and $657 million. But that agreement was rejected by a judge, who said too much money was going to lawyers and not enough to the injured responders.
Three months later, the settlement was lifted to $712 million and the lawyers agreed to drop their fees from a third of the settlement to 25 percent. The deal was contingent on at least 95 percent of plaintiffs signing on.
Klein, a Long Island resident, said he signed up as much for his fellow responders as for himself.
Although he developed asthma, gastrointestinal problems and other ailments after spending hundreds of hours at Ground Zero, Klein expects to receive less than $100,000 from the settlement because his illnesses are not life threatening. The money will help him pay off old bills and possibly take his family on vacation, but won’t be enough for a luxury like a new car, he said.
Still, Klein said he wanted to participate both to help those who are sicker than him and to get the bureaucratic process of compensation behind him.
"I’m not dying, so I guess I’m pretty lucky," said Klein, who retired as an NYPD detective in 2003.
In the past weeks and months, many WTC health advocates, politicians and the mayor had urged those who were injured on 9/11 and in its aftermath to sign on.
"We're quite gratified that we have received the 95 percent participation to validate the settlement," Marc Bern, from Worby, Groner, Edelman & Napoli, Bern, which represents many of the injured responders, told DNAinfo Friday.
Anthony Flammia, 47, an NYPD officer on 9/11, said he signed onto the settlement not for the money, but to put the entire experience behind him.
"I wanted to see the people responsible for safety at Ground Zero be held liable for this and acknowledge that mistakes were made," said Flammia, a Long Island resident.
Flammia worked more than 200 hours at Ground Zero, and for the first few days he was not given a respirator to protect him from the toxic dust and ash that filled the air, he said. He has since developed chronic sinusitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep apnea and nerve, joint and muscle pain. Flammia, who retired on disability, expects to receive a six-figure settlement.
Kenny Specht, a firefighter who is now battling thyroid cancer, initially opposed the settlement but became a vocal proponent of it out a month ago.
"This is not all it could have been or all it should have been," Specht said Friday, adding that first responders deserve more. "But unfortunately, it was the only game in town."
According to a press release sent out by lawyers for both the city and responders, at least 98 percent of plaintiffs whose injuries and illnesses were categorized as Tier 4 — i.e. the most serious — had agreed to the settlement. Ninety-five percent of plaintiffs with Tier 2 and 3 injuries also agreed.
That release said the plaintiffs would receive compensation based on the severity of their illnesses. For example, said the release, a plaintiff who developed a debilitating respiratory illness such as severe asthma within seven months of being exposed to the WTC site could get $800,000 to $1.05 million.
Plaintiffs who could link a death to an illness sustained because of 9/11 could receive $1.5 million, said the release. Those with a legal claim of possibly of becoming sick could get $3,250.
U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King released a statement Friday saying the battle to help first responders will continue.
"The agreement reached today on the 9/11 settlement is a positive step for many ailing first responders — but the problem isn’t over," the elected officials said.
"Nearly everyone agrees that the settlement does not provide adequate funding to fully compensate those who are injured…nor does it cover the tens of thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors who are injured but have not filed lawsuits."
The true solution, the politicians said, is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed the House of Representatives in September and is pending before the Senate.
The $7 billion Zadroga bill, named for an NYPD detective who got sick after his exposure at Ground Zero and died in 2006, would provide broader compensation and medical monitoring and treatment for all responders, along with downtown residents, students and office workers.