| June 26, 2008

The City of New York is trying avoid paying 9/11 injury claims by questioning the validity of many of them. Lawyers for the city recently filed court papers alleging that about 30 percent of claimants aren’t seriously ill, and another 3 percent are not injured at all. Lawyers representing the more than 10,000 plaintiff suing New York City for their 9/11 ailments – at least half of which are firefighters, police and other first responders – say the city is twisting the nature of the injury claims.

In the hours and days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, thousands of rescue workers descended on Ground Zero to help with recovery efforts. Sifting through dust and rubble, sometimes with their bare hands, many lacked the clothing and equipment that could have kept them safe from harm. Several studies have confirmed that Ground Zero first responders are suffering from ill health as a result of their exposure to toxic dust at the site. Released last May, the initial findings of a three-year study conducted by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that of the 9,000 WTC first responders examined, 70-percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60-percent still faced respiratory problems. Another report released by the FDNY that same month reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who were first responders at Ground Zero. And the New York City Department of Health also found that one in eight first responders still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Faced with daunting medical bills, and often too disabled to work, thousands of World Trade Center rescue workers have had no choice but to sue New York City and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for their injuries.

Many city residents who were living and working in lower Manhattan the day of the attack and in the weeks following have also reported health problems. Even children have not been immune. A report last year found that of 3,100 children enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry; nearly half had developed breathing problems three years after the attack.

But even though the federal government created a $1 billion insurance fund to handle such claims, the city has been aggressive in its attempts to defend 9/11 injury lawsuits. In a letter to the judge overseeing the cases, lawyers for the city said that 30 percent of claims involved cases in which a specific ailment was not diagnosed. The claims instead describe symptoms, such as a runny nose or sleep problems.

The letter went further, stating that, “This is not to suggest that the remaining 70 percent of plaintiffs are seriously injured,” the lawyers wrote. “To the contrary, diagnosable injuries such as sinusitis and acid reflux, are not necessarily serious.” The letter goes on to contend that about 300 claims involve no injury at all.

But a lawyer for the injured 9/11 rescue workers told the “New York Post” last night that “The city has completely skewed the statistics to argue wrongly that there have not been significant illnesses.”

The attorney said that the city is basing its claims on short-form complaints filed by plaintiffs concerned about potential symptoms who wanted to file suit before the statute of limitations runs out. Some of the plaintiffs, including some who admit they are not ill, are looking for the city to pay for medical testing, he said.

Attorneys for the injured sent their own letter to the judge last month suggesting they work with the city to categorize injury claims by their severity.

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