Give the seemingly straightforward nature of 9/11 or World Trade Center victim compensation fund cases (presence in the Exposure Area and diagnosis of a covered condition), many victims assume they either do not need an attorney to pursue these claims, or that any lawyer will do. But the Special Master denies about 33% of the claims it receives, and approves less than full compensation in many other cases.
People who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan often have a hard time winning fair compensation, because although no Special Master wants to be featured in a New York Times editorial about denied compensation to 9/11 heroes, there is no such dynamic among ambient (indirect) exposure cases.
Emergency responders are frequently denied as well, mostly on technical grounds. And, given the strict time deadlines in these cases, many of these victims do not get a second chance to claim benefits.
The Exposure Zone is all of Lower Manhattan south of a Canal Street-Broadway-Clinton Street line from the Hudson River to the East River. To obtain money from the Victim Compensation Fund, the victim must have been in the Exposure Zone between September 11, 2001 and May 31, 2002.
As a rule of thumb, the Special Master often approves claims of victims who spent considerable time near Ground Zero in the last three months of 2001, and summarily denies or closely scrutinizes all other claims. Some specific issues include:
- Other Locations: If the victim also spent some time in Pennsylvania or other high-asbestos areas, the Special Master is often quick to conclude that the victim’s illness, while real, is not 9/11-related.
- Duration: Exposure to just one microscopic fiber that contains asbestos or a heavy metal could cause a serious or fatal illness, but the Special Master often only looks favorably on long-term exposure claims.
Lawmakers set up the VCF mostly so injured victims would not sue the airlines and possibly bankrupt them.
VCF covered illnesses include a wide range of physical and mental health conditions, including:
- Trauma wounds,
- Respiratory disorders,
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and
- Certain kinds of cancer.
Many of these conditions are difficult to diagnose, so it is not unusual for victims to go to more than one doctor to get a correct diagnosis. The problem is that the Special Master often insists on using the first, incorrect diagnosis to determine the claim.
That puts victims in a difficult position, because they must effectively discredit the first doctor. Only an experienced 9/11 attorney has the skills to do this.
Fighting for Compensation
While every case is different and stands on its own merits, the average financial compensation for a deceased 9/11 victim is about $2 million.
The Special Master nearly always tries to offset the claim amount by the amount of the victim’s health insurance coverage. But there is often a difference between coverage amount and money paid, because many health insurers do not pay injury claims. Victims must also present compelling evidence about the extent of their injuries, because many times the Special Master erroneously assumes that some conditions are not terribly serious or not permanent.
Paul Napoli is one of the most experienced in WTC VCF attorneys in New York. In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Napoli contracted a rare form of cancer, which he eventualy beat. The law firm of Napoli Shkolnik is one of the few firms that to this day still defends clients with no out of pocket expenses. While many firms provide solutions, few will put up their money for you.