Judge rejects deal on Ground Zero Health claims

On the 18th of March, judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected a settlement worth $657.5 million between the City of New York and some 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers  who say they suffered health damages from toiling at ground zero after  the 2001 terrorist attack, telling lawyers that it did not provide enough compensation to  plaintiffs and needed to be renegotiated under his supervision.

He said that he was concerned that the fees going to the plaintiffs’  lawyers — about one-third of the settlement — would take “a very large  bite” and that he planned to review them. Judge Hellerstein also said that the terms of the settlement were too complicated for the plaintiffs to be able to reach an “intelligent decision” on whether to accept it.

The settlement, reached on March 11, required approval from 95 percent of the plaintiffs to take effect. Judge Hellerstein said that once a new one was negotiated, he would make himself available to plaintiffs to explain their options, rather than leave that to their lawyers.

“I want transparency. I want accountability. I want judicial control over this process,” he said at the hearing. “They’ve got to come up with an agreement under judicial supervision that will make us all proud.”

Legal experts inmass personal-injury litigation said said that whether Judge Hellerstein had the authority to reject the settlement was subject to debate.

“There has to be additional negotiations to come up with a better and fair settlement,” he said. “I will not preside over a settlement based on fear or ignorance.”

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