NY Daily News - November 07, 2010by Scott Shifrel, Alison Gendar and James Fanelli
The deadline for the roughly 10,000 plaintiffs to opt into the $760 million deal is Monday.
"Expect a last-minute rush," one source involved in the settlement said.
About 85% of plaintiffs - police officers, firefighters, hardhats and other Ground Zero workers - already have said yes to the offer, according to sources.
In total, 95% must agree to the settlement; othe
rwise, it will be scuttled, and plaintiffs must individually pursue their lawsuits - which could take years to settle.
Many plaintiffs have described the decision process as gut-wrenching. Some have balked over the size of the payouts - which range from $3,250 to millions of dollars, depending on the severity of sickness and the type of illness.
The prospect of being excluded from the Zadroga bill - the $7.4 billion federal health-care coverage proposal - changed many responders' minds.
The bill already has passed the House of Representatives. A lame duck Senate must still take up the measure next month.
If Zadroga becomes law, plaintiffs who accept the city settlement will be eligible for its benefits. Those who pursue suits against the city will lose access to Zadroga.
"I'm not happy about it, but they have you at a point where you don't really have much of an option," said Glen Klein, 51, of Centereach, L.I., who accepted the WTC settlement.
The retired NYPD officer spent 800 hours on the debris pile and suffers from asthma and gastrointestinal problems.
He said his payout from the city agreement would be small, but he is banking on the health benefits under Zadroga.
"The chances are that three or four years down the road, I'm going to be a lot sicker," he said. "I have no recourse down the road, other than the Zadroga."
John Feal, a first responders' advocate who lost his foot at Ground Zero, said exclusion from Zadroga has shaped many plaintiffs' decisions.
"A month ago, I could have given you 30 or 40 people's names who were opting out," he said. "Once everybody found out [about Zadroga], they said, 'Uh-oh, I better do something.'"
The prospect that the amount of money in the settlement will grow also may entice undecided plaintiffs, sources said.
The insurer for the city's barges and piers reached a deal Friday night, agreeing to contribute $27.5 million to the pot.
Three companies overseeing sifting of Ground Zero debris at Fresh Kills also are expected to settle soon, potentially adding tens of millions of dollars to the settlement, according to sources.
Still, not everyone has been sold.
John Walcott has received as many as four calls and emails a day from his lawyers encouraging him to accept the deal. But the retired NYPD detective, who got leukemia after working on The Pile, won't take it.
He believes the promised payout could change because, as part of the settlement, a medical panel still must review his case.
"They want you to sign your rights away, yet there is no guarantee that you will get anything. This isn't for me - this is for my 8-year-old daughter," Walcott said. "Their attitude with this is, 'You'll get what you get and don't be upset.'"