NEW YORK — Lawyers for thousands of ground zero workers suing over their exposure to dust from the destroyed World Trade Center have offered to lower their legal fees in an attempt to salvage a major settlement in the case.
The law firm Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern was initially poised to take home a third or more of a $657 million settlement negotiated on behalf of the workers this spring, but the future of that payout was put in doubt when U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected the deal in March.
Hellerstein said the settlement contained too much money for the legal team and too little for people who are legitimately ill.
Now, the lawyers have told the judge in a letter that they are willing to cap their fees at 20 percent, or about $115 million if the dollar amounts from the original settlement remain unchanged.
The rest of the money would be divided among up to 10,000 workers, including some who aren't sick, but fear they might fall ill some day, and others who have asthma, cancer or other problems they fear might have been caused by toxic trade center ash.
It is unclear whether the offer will help revive the settlement, which is now being renegotiated.
Hellerstein had made several withering criticisms of the deal.
The judge said the complicated structure of the deal made it too difficult for workers to figure out how much they would be paid. He asked that the court be given greater control over who would qualify for awards, and who wouldn't.
Hellerstein also said more money should be made available to workers with cancer, despite little scientific evidence linking trade center ash to the illness.
Overall, the judge also said the total amount in the settlement was inadequate. It called for the special insurance entity created to defend the City of New York from lawsuits to pay out between $575 million and $657 million.
The two sides have been attempting to renegotiate the arrangement in a way that might please the judge. Simultaneously, lawyers for the city have appealed Hellerstein's rejection of the deal, saying it was beyond his powers to interfere in a private settlement between the parties.
Thousands of workers who participated in the massive cleanup after the 9/11 attacks have accused the city of failing to provide them with proper equipment to protect their lungs.
Information from: Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com