NEW YORK – More than 10,000 workers exposed to the tons of toxic dust that blanketed ground zero after the World Trade Center fell have ended their bruising legal fight with New York City and joined a settlement worth at least $625 million, officials said Friday.
The deal will resolve an overwhelming majority of the lawsuits over the city’s failure to provide protective equipment to the army of construction workers, police officers and firefighters who spent months clearing and sifting rubble after Sept. 11.
Among the thousands who sued, claiming that soot at the site got into their lungs and made them sick, more than 95 percent eligible for the settlement agreed to take the offer. Only 520 said no or failed to respond.
City officials and lawyers for the workers said they welcomed a resolution to a case that had pitted New York and a long list of demolition companies against the very men and women who helped lower Manhattan recover.
Paul Napoli, a senior partner with the law firm representing most of the workers, called the settlement “the best result, given the uncertainty of protracted litigation.”
The settlement, which has been on the table since the spring, won approval by the thinnest of margins. Under terms of the deal, it would only become effective if at least 95 percent of eligible plaintiffs signed on. It just cleared that hurdle, with 95.1 percent.
The settlement will provide at least $625 million to the workers, although related deals with other defendants, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center site, will likely boost that total to $725 million or more.
A majority of the money will come from a special $1 billion fund set up by Congress and paid for by the American people.
Barring an act of Congress, the settlement will be the largest pool of compensation for people who fell ill in the years after their service at the trade center.
The U.S. Senate is considering legislation, already passed in the House, that would authorize as much as $7.4 billion in medical care and payments to the sick.
Thousands of people believe they have illnesses caused by trade center dust. The lawsuits cited hundreds of different ailments, both serious and mundane, with the most common being a respiratory problem similar to asthma.
Under the deal, the plaintiffs will be spared the tough task of proving that their illnesses are connected to work at ground zero.
Scientists have documented elevated rates of asthma among ground zero workers and a decline in lung capacity among many firefighters, but are undecided about other diseases.
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