By Joshua Williams and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN — A federal judge has rejected a settlement offered to thousands of people who sued the city after being sickened by World Trade Center dust, saying the amount is too paltry and the method of payment too confusing.
“It’s my judgment, the settlement is not enough,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said during a court hearing Friday, sending both sides back to the drawing board.
“We want judicial supervision, accountability and a public record we can all be proud of.”
Hellerstein said the settlement amount was not enough to cover the workers. He also raised concern that too much of the settlement was going into their lawyers' pockets, rather than to help victims.
The WTC Captive Insurance Company, the insurance policy set up by the city in 2004 to cover claims filed by those sickened by Trade Center dust, announced last week that they were offering a settlement of between $575 million and $657.5 million to more than 10,000 Trade Center workers who sued the city.
The plaintiffs include members of the NYPD, FDNY and other workers who said they were sickened during their time on the pile of smoking toxic debris at Ground Zero.
The judge demanded judicial review over the entire process, and added that both sides have to agree on a way to monitor and explain the categories of illness assigned to the victims that determines their payout.
The judge also blasted the city for dragging its feet in a protracted appeals process that he said took up four of the past eight years.
“We are disappointed the judge did not accept the settlement that took two years to negotiate. We have great respect for Judge Hellerstein and will consider his comments, but his reaction to the settlement will make it extremely difficult to resolve these cases,” said Michael Cardozo, Corporation Counsel for the City of New York.
The head of WTC Captive Insurance also took issue with Hellerstein’s decision.
"The judge has made this more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain fair, timely and just compensation,” said Christine LaSala, president and CEO of WTC Captive insurance.
Many of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit said they appreciated the judge's ruling.
“I think what the judge said was great, more money will go to the right place,” said Keith Lebow, a former ironworker who spent 100 hours on Ground Zero after 9/11.
But Lebow said he wasn't excited about the additional time delay.
“I want to get what I need, but I don’t want to be dead either,” he said.