Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog
"The city and its contractors are not immune from lawsuits brought by emergency workers sickened after toiling amid toxic dust at ground zero, a judge ruled, clearing the way for what he said should be the speedy resolution of thousands of claims.
In his decision Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said the city, its roughly 150 private contractors, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were only partially immune from lawsuits, with the precise scope and extent of the immunity varying according to date, place and activity.
''If even a minority of the plaintiffs suffered serious injuries to their respiratory tracts arising from the acrid air of September 11, their claims deserve to be heard when a recovery could make a difference in their lives,'' the judge wrote, adding that the defendants are entitled to resolution at the earliest possible point." (Judge: NYC Open to Ground Zero Claims, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, October 18, 2006)
This lawsuit is the litigation that Mayor Bloomberg most feared.
This lawsuit is what I have been indirectly discussing on Tort Deform over the last month.
This lawsuit is why the City of New York did not release medical guidelines for diagnosing WTC related illnesses until five years after the attacks. City officials were afraid of implicitly acknowledging a connection which they are likely to contest as to each worker in the later proceedings of this lawsuit. Although it may have helped their litigation strategy (although clearly not enough as it is moving forward), in large part because of this decision between 30-40% of sick Ground Zero workers were initially misdiagnosed.
Indeed, this lawsuit is why the City of New York has taken every possible opportunity to publicly challenge a causal link between exposure at Ground Zero and resulting illnesses.
Mayor Bloomberg has been the most public and most strident critic of the strength of the evidence of a link between exposure at Ground Zero and the resulting illnesses. He has done so (although less shrilly) even after the now well know Mt. Sinai Medical report, which conclusively linked exposure at Ground Zero to certain documented illnesses. Even after agreeing to fund treatment for those affected under intense public pressure, he still indirectly questioned the link albeit far less shrilly.
It should now be clear to all why he was so strident: he feared the success of this lawsuit.
I have previously written in detail in multiple posts about how the federal, state, and city governments all put financial interests over human safety in their response to the environmental cleanup.
Why the Challenges Faced by 9/11 Workers Affect Us All
9/11 & The Safety Is Too Expensive Business Model
Congress Rejects Aid For Sick 9/11 Responders: Puts Financial Safety Over Human Safety
9/11 Financial Safety Over Human Safety Narrative Continues
Federal and NYC Governments Make It as Hard As Possible for 9/11 Victims
In these same posts I have described the city's seemingly obsessive attempt to disprove a connection between exposure at Ground Zero, and the resulting illnesses affecting these workers, which we have all read about.
In responding to 9/11 the City of New York cut safety corners, didn't warn workers of the real dangers of breathing the air, and did not supply them with (and train them to use) the proper respiratory equipment.
After making this error, and in doing so devaluing the health and well being of the heroes who rushed to the aid of possible survivors, the City of New York (primarily through Mayor Bloomberg) as well as the federal government, turned around and implicitly communicated that that taking proper care of these ailing heroes was "too expensive."
If this lawsuit continues, and if the 3,000 or so heroes who are a part of it get a substantial reward, it will be a result of the negligent and reckless decision on the part of these government officials, and not anything else, that is responsible for this liability and the resulting costs.
What's even worse about resistance to this health link and this lawsuit is that (and I am going to be looking into this issue more closely so don't quote me yet) it is not entirely clear that the City of New York itself would have to personally pay any or much of the costs if the lawsuit is successful.
The act which established the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund capped NYC's and the Port Authority's immunity at their level of insurance coverage. In addition, the federal government contributed $1 billion fund to cover these kinds of costs related to the cleanup at Ground Zero.
I think every single worker who has become sick, would rather be alive and healthy than get compensation for their pain and suffering and for coverage for their medical treatment, however delayed it may be in coming now more than five years after the fact.
There is a lot to this case and this issue, and I will be writing about it more extensively over the next few days.
If you or your organization is interested in learning more about or working on these types of civil justice issues, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Senior Fellow in Civil Justice
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy