By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — John Feal, the 9/11 recovery worker who tirelessly advocated for federal benefits for those sickened at Ground Zero, is now fighting a new scourge: lawyers.
Less than a week after Congress passed the $4.3 billion 9/11 health bill, lawyers of questionable legitimacy are already circling the first responder community, trying to pick up new clients, Feal said.
"Our recommendation: Stand fast!" Feal said in a press release Monday. "There is no need to do this with urgency, none whatsoever. So please be patient, and don't sign any documents with any attorney, until you have shopped and found the best possible attorney for you and your family."
Feal, who lost part of his left foot while working at Ground Zero, said he intends to research legal options for responders through his FealGood Foundation. Then, the foundation will then hold a one-day seminar to give those who are sick a chance to meet prospective firms and make an informed decision.
Many responders are confused about how the bill will help them, and some are even contacting Manhattan-based reporters to ask them for information.
"Can you tell me what this new bill will do for me?" a former Sanitation Department worker asked in a recent e-mail to DNAinfo. The worker said he lost half his lung capacity after spending nine months at Ground Zero, and he now has to pay $12,000 just for medication each year.
While those who are sick may be impatient to get the help they need, Feal pointed out that President Obama hasn’t even signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law yet, though he is expected to do so soon. Even once the bill is signed into law, the federal government still has to set rules and application procedures for the new $2.8 billion victims’ compensation fund, which will dispense money over the next six years.
But several law firms are already soliciting clients online.
Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern LLP, which has already made over $100 million in representing 9/11 victims, recently launched the website zadroga-act.com targeted at sick first responders, which promises to "fight for the highest compensation amount you are entitled to."
While the firm is not doing anything illegal, the New York Daily News reported that some advocates and experts think it looks like "ambulance chasing."
The Zadroga Act caps lawyers’ fees at 10 percent, lower than the 25 percent cap on previous settlements.