After years of fighting in court, lawyers representing New York City, construction companies and more than 10,000 ground zero rescue and recovery workers agreed to a settlement that could pay up to $657.5m to responders made ill by dust from the destroyed World Trade Centre.
The settlement was announced by the WTC Captive Insurance Co, a special entity established to indemnify the city and its contractors against potential legal action as they moved to clean up the site after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The deal, which still must be approved by a judge and the workers themselves, would make the city and other companies represented by the insurer liable for a minimum of $575m, with more money available to the sick if certain conditions are met.
Most if not all of the money would come out of a $1bn grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the settlement "a fair and reasonable resolution to a complex set of circumstances.
"The resolution of the World Trade Centre litigation will allow the first responders and workers to be compensated for injuries suffered following their work at Ground Zero," Mr Bloomberg said in a statement.
Marc Bern, a senior partner with the law firm Worby, Groner, Edelman and Napoli, Bern LLP, which negotiated the deal, said it was "a good settlement.
"We are gratified that these heroic men and women who performed their duties without consideration of the health implications will finally receive just compensation for their pain and suffering, lost wages, medical and other expenses, as the US Congress intended when it appropriated this money," he said in a statement.
Workers who wish to participate in the settlement would need to prove they had been at the World Trade Centre site or other facilities that handled debris. They also would have to turn over medical records and provide other information aimed at weeding out fraudulent or dubious claims.
For the settlement to be enforced, 95 per cent of the workers would need to agree to be bound by its terms.
The agreement comes with just two months to go until the first trials are to begin in the case.
Thousands of police officers, firefighters and construction workers who put in time at the 16-acre site in lower Manhattan filed lawsuits against the city, claiming it sent them to ground zero without proper protective equipment.
Many of those workers now claim to have fallen ill. A majority complained of a respiratory problem similar to asthma, but the suits also sought damages for hundreds of other types of ailments, including cancer.