March 12, 2010

The segment of "Sicko" where we learned about the disabilities suffered by 9/11 volunteers haunts me to this day. If only we'd just offered to cover their medical care, instead of prosecuting Michael Moore for taking them to Cuba.

So many of the people whose respiratory systems were destroyed by the debris from the World Trade Center collapse are already dead. At least something's finally being done:

New York City and a group of contractors have agreed to pay up to $657 million to more than 10,000 workers who alleged that rescue and cleanup efforts around the World Trade Center made them sick.

The settlement, announced Thursday night, sets up a system to compensate thousands of firefighters, police officers, contractors and volunteers based on the severity of their medical problems. "This settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution to a complex set of circumstances," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

The awards would range from $3,250 to seven figure sums. By agreeing to the settlement, the plaintiffs release the city and its contractors from any future damage claims.

Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a task force in 2006 to develop a coordinated plan for responding to the massive health problems associated with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That panel projected roughly 43,000 people might ultimately seek treatment for exposure to the dust and smoke that permeated lower Manhattan after the towers toppled.

The settlement, coming just months before the first trials were to begin, comes after years of contentious arguing in court. Many of the sick workers have accused the city of failing to respond quickly and humanely to what were in many cases devastating health problems, a charge the Bloomberg administration has rejected.

In 2008, the city sparked outrage when it argued a third of the Ground Zero workers who sued the city had minor health problems, such as runny noses or trouble sleeping.

"This agreement enables workers and volunteers claiming injury from the WTC site operations to obtain compensation commensurate with the nature of their injuries and the strength of their claims, while offering added protection against possible future illness," said Christine LaSala, president of the WTC Captive Insurance Company, formed in 2004 to insure the city and nearly 140 other parties against claims connected to 9/11.

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