Ground Zero rescuers win £433m payout

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After years of fighting in court, lawyers representing New York City, construction companies and more than 10,000 "Ground Zero" rescue and recovery workers have agreed to a settlement that could pay up to $657.5m (£433.3) to people made ill by dust from the destroyed World Trade Centre.

The deal, which went before a judge yesterday for final approval before going to the workers themselves, would make the city and other companies represented by the insurer liable for a minimum of $575m, with more money available 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," he said.

Workers who believe they are entitled to compensation must prove that they were at the World Trade Centre site or other facilities that handled debris caused by the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. They will have to provide medical records and other information to rule out fraudulent or dubious claims. For the settlement to be enforced, 95 per cent of the workers would have to agree to be bound by its terms.

There are now just two months to go until the first trials in the case begin. Thousands of police officers, firefighters and construction workers who spent 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. The majority complained of a respiratory problem similar to asthma, but the suits also sought damages for hundreds of other diseases and ailments, including cancer.

Carpenter James Nolan, 45, of Yonkers, said he helped recover bodies and build ramps for fire hoses at the site, but later developed lung and leg problems, for which he takes six types of medication. He said the city knew the air was dirty and so he sued it six years ago. He is now happy that the case is ending. "We've had to fight for what we deserve," he said. "I'm glad it's coming to an end where I can feel a little comfortable that if I pass away my wife and kids can get something."

Some workers will receive payments of a few thousand dollars. Others could get more than $1m, depending on their injuries. The Worby, Groner, Edelman & Napoli, Bern law partnership, which represents 9,000 of the plaintiffs, is expected to take as much as a third or more of the total settlement in legal fees, based on contingency agreements it signed with each client.