Judge OKs US$53.8-million settlements in World Trade Center cleanup

Workers made ill by exposure to toxic dust

NEW YORK (Reuters) — A federal judge has approved US$53.8 million in settlements for 82 unionized cleanup workers who claimed they were made ill by exposure to toxic dust near the World Trade Center site, court papers showed.

The workers were among roughly 1,000 to seek compensation in federal court in Manhattan for alleged injuries stemming from their cleanup work at more than 100 privately owned buildings in downtown Manhattan.

While a few hundred other workers have also settled, the settlements approved on Tuesday night by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan offers a new window into the payouts, which typically have not been made public.

Payouts to the 82 workers will average US$656,119, and range from US$25,000 to US$1.45 million. They reflect such factors as injury severity, lost earnings, age and smoking history. One worker still has claims against two related defendants.

Most litigation stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has been completed. Hellerstein has handled much of that litigation.

According to court papers, the latest settlement covers members of Laborers International Union of North America Local 78, which represents asbestos, lead and hazardous waste handlers in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.

They claimed to suffer respiratory and digestive diseases, psychological injuries and cancer after the defendant building owners and contractors failed to provide equipment to keep them from inhaling toxic dust in about 71 buildings near Ground Zero.

The defendants, which also include managing agents, subcontractors and consultants, disputed that the dust was toxic or caused injuries.

Hellerstein said the latest settlements compared "favorably" with the US$716 million accord he approved in 2010 to cover more than 10,000 people who worked at the World Trade Center site and brought claims against the city and contractors.

The judge also said the payouts were "well within the range of reasonableness."

He approved a 25 per cent legal fee for the plaintiffs' lawyers, Gregory J. Cannata & Associates and Robert Grochow.

"We're very happy" with the settlements, Cannata said in a phone interview. "These workers were very seriously and permanently injured, and most are out of work. The settlements will help compensate them for their injuries and lost earnings."

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