NEW YORK -- Ailing ground zero workers went to court yesterday to demand that the company overseeing a $1 billion Sept. 11 insurance fund spend the money to pay for their healthcare.
The workers and their families have already filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the toxic dust from the World Trade Center site gave them serious, sometimes fatal illnesses . Yesterday, they sought compensation from the WTC Captive Insurance Co., the company in charge of money appropriated by Congress to handle Sept. 11 health-related claims.
"The WTC Captive has consistently refused to pay any of the ground zero workers who have become ill on the work site, including any compensation" for lost salaries, pain and suffering, medical treatment, medical monitoring or burial expenses, according to the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan's state Supreme Court.
It was filed by attorneys representing thousands who became ill after breathing toxic dust while cleaning up the site, including more than 100 who have died.
"She hasn't paid a penny to one of my 10,000 people," David Worby, a lawyer representing the workers, said of the company's CEO, Christine LaSala. "It was their mandate."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was named in the suit along with LaSala and board members, said yesterday that lawyers are wrong about the company's structure.
"They just don't know the facts. The truth of the matter is, Congress didn't set up a victims' compensation fund," the mayor said. "We'd like them to do that, we've asked for that, they set up a captive insurance company. And the insurance company can only pay out monies if somebody sues us in court and wins a judgment against us."
Congress directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up the fund, appropriating up to $1 billion "to establish a captive insurance company or other appropriate insurance mechanism for claims arising from debris removal, which may include claims made by city employees," according to the 2003 resolution.
The lawsuit, relying on testimony from federal officials over the years about the fund's purpose, said officials meant for the money to be used to compensate ailing workers.
Federal and state governments never said "that a captive insurance company be established solely to defend the city of New York and its contractors from all rescue, recovery and debris removal related claims, at all costs," according to the lawsuit .
In this case, the term captive refers to an entity created specifically to cover Sept. 11-related claims for the New York City government.
Since it began operating in 2004, the company has spent more than $73 million of the insurance money in legal fees and other expenses, according to the lawsuit .
Worby and other lawyers plan to go to Washington later this week to lobby congressional leaders to urge the company to make the $1 billion available immediately for sick workers.
The largest study conducted of about 20,000 ground zero workers reported last year that 70 percent of patients suffer respiratory disease years after the cleanup.