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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Federal judge permits 9/11 cleanup workers to sue NYC, Port Authority
Joshua Pantesco at 7:14 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge on Tuesday permitted a lawsuit, filed on behalf of 3,000 emergency workers who allege health problems resulting from the cleanup of the Sept. 11 attacks [JURIST news archive] at the World Trade Center site, to proceed beyond the summary judgment stage against the city of New York, the Port Authority, New Jersey, and hundreds of contractors. The workers filed the class action lawsuit [JURIST report] in 2004, alleging that they should have been provided with better respiratory equipment throughout the cleanup, and better instructions on how to use the gear they were provided, and that as a result, they have suffered permanent lung damage. Defendants have argued that state and federal immunity laws, including the New York State Defense Emergency Act [text], the New York Disaster Act, and common law federal immunity principles, protected their conduct from liability during the course of a response to an enemy attack. The plaintiffs argued that the federal government recognized the liability of the city and other entities when they authorized a damage cap on civil claims against the city as part of the Air Transportation Safety and Air Stabilization Act of 2001 [text], and again when they distributed $1 billion to the city to fund an insurance pool for the city.

In the opinion [text], US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote:

the Defendants are benefited by limited immunity, limited according to time and activity, and that the issues are fact-intensive and cannot be decided on motion at this juncture. My conclusion also expresses some suggestions for the future progression of these cases, to enable the parties to begin discussions of settlements and to prepare for trial.
Hellerstein dismissed the suits against power company Con Edison and developer Silverstein Properties [corporate websites], who were leaseholders on the site but who were not present during the cleanup effort. Read Hellerstein's order [PDF text] recommending the appointment of a Special Master to supervise and hasten the litigation. Reuters has more.

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