After the World Trade Center attacks, Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo, P.C. had the honor of representing 363 firefighters and families of deceased firefighters in the original September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (“VCF”). By securing more than $265 million for them, and not charging any legal fee, the firm earned the National Law Journal’s 2004 Pro Bono Award.
In 2004, following the closure of the VCF, firefighters sickened by exposures at the World Trade Center continued to seek our help. We filed the first lawsuits against the City of New York and its contractors for their failure to provide respirators to rescue and recovery workers. The World Trade Center Disaster Site Litigation, as the case became known, lasted for over seven years in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. During that time, the number of individually filed lawsuits grew to over 10,000, and our firm represented more than 600 firefighters. Appointed co-liaison counsel, our firm assumed a leading role in a long, difficult fight to secure compensation for all of these brave individuals.
The City argued that it could not be sued for responding to the terrorist attacks, an act of war. The massive loss of life and equipment left it with little ability to protect rescue workers. The City also argued that the responders could not link their illnesses to the smoke and dust at the WTC Site. Our firm represented many of the first cases scheduled for trial, and we confronted these issues head-on.
First, we defeated the City’s attempt to dismiss the cases, both at the trial court level and on appeal. Second, we retained leading experts, including one who began collecting and studying World Trade Center dust on September 11th, to prove the cause of our clients’ injuries. We also investigated the City’s program to provide responders with respiratory protection, questioning dozens of officials under oath and securing documents to establish our case.
In 2010, as the trial date approached, serving as co-liaison counsel for the injured workers, we helped secure a $700 Million settlement with the lawyers for the defendants.
Our 9-11 WTC work continues. With the passage of the James Zadroga Act in January 2011, the Victim Compensation Fund reopened and began accepting claims for compensation in November 2011. The first 9-11 illness awards were issued in January 2013, and, to date, SPBMC has recovered over $600 Million for its clients, including the largest single award of $4.133 Million.
No amount of money will ever compensate for the many tragedies stemming from the events of September 11, 2001. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund is an attempt to help ease the burden for those who were injured or became ill in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, also known as the 911 VCF, which is shorthand for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, was created by the federal government in 2002 to help the families of the people who died in the attacks, as well as the first responders, World Trade Center workers, and Lower Manhattan residents who could no longer work because of 9/11-related illnesses.
The original fund expired in 2003. As time went on, however, it became clear that the World Trade Center disaster was responsible for a number of illnesses – such as cancers and respiratory disorders – that took years to develop.
In 2010, Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which revived the Victim Compensation Fund and provided health benefits to help those continuing to suffer from the physical aftereffects of the attacks. President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on January 2, 2011. The new law was named for James Zadroga, a New York police detective who spent 450 hours working at Ground Zero and died five years later from respiratory illnesses caused by dust he inhaled at the scene.
In December 2015, the Zadroga act was reauthorized, extending health benefits another 75 years and adding another five years to the life of the Victim Compensation Fund.