Judge Hellerstein Accepts $712 Million Settlement for Ground Zero Workers

By Jason Beahm on June 14, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A $712 million settlement has been reached in the lawsuit between 10,000 ground zero rescue and cleanup workers and New York City. The previous $657 settlement had been thrown out by a federal judge who said it was too small. Lawyers were up in arms after the Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected the $657 million settlement, but moved swiftly to come to a new agreement. 
Judge Hellerstein acknowledged that his rejection of the settlement was a rare step for a judge, but said that in such a significant case, it was necessary. "It just begs for judicial supervision, and I have exercised it, and I will continue to exercise it ... The niceties of federal practice have to go second to the compelling needs of people to get a recovery that is almost, almost, almost within their grasp."

Judge Hellerstein of the United States District Court in Manhattan, New York, offered a strong endorsement for the new settlement. Part of the reason for the Judge's support came after attorneys agreed to reduce their fees from 33% to 25%. "It's not perfect, but it's very, very good," Hellerstein said.

The case began in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack and the years of cleanup that followed. Thousands of workers filed lawsuits against the city and private contractors over illnesses related to their work. They argued they were inadequately equipped for the dangers of the work, such as the risks posed by the particulate matter in the air.

Both the city attorneys and plaintiffs' attorneys spoke highly of the new settlement, after previously expressing anger with Judge Hellerstein's judicial activism. It is now up to the plaintiffs themselves, who must approve the settlement by a 95% margin. According to the New York Times, payments will range from about $3,000 for plaintiffs who are valid class members but did not suffer an injury, to $2 million for survivors of those workers whose death can be linked to their presence at ground zero.

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