Advocacy groups seeking removal of the long-past deadline for New York City workers and others to file claims for workers' compensation for injuries or sickness arising from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center have launched a campaign for passage of enabling legislation.
The action coincides with the city officials' disclosure that nearly 300 late claims have already been filed, including one by a former deputy mayor that has put the issue in the national spotlight.
Legislation making its way through the New York State Assembly would remove the two-year statute of limitations that expired in September 2003. Instead, bill A09114 would require the filing of a claim within six months of the law becoming effective, or within six months of the victim becoming aware of his illness, whichever would be later.
The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing, also directs the state's Workers' Compensation Board to find that any death or disability due to a qualifying illness suffered by a worker who helped in the Sept. 11 rescue or cleanup was caused by that work.
Marianne Pizzitola, a leader in the drive for improved benefits for Sept. 11 workers and pension and benefits coordinator for the Uniformed EMS Officers Union, recently visited the state Assembly and was invited to the floor to put her case directly to members.
"I got the impression there is a lot of support for the bill," she said, adding that it was too early to determine if it would become law because it was not known how Gov. George Pataki's administration would react.
She refuted the charge made by the bill's opponents that extending the deadline would impose significant additional cost on the city and the state.
"We don't think the immediate costs would be enormous," she said, because not everyone who filed a claim would necessarily pursue it. The key point would be for workers to establish they were on-site and file a claim that could be reopened if some illness developed in the future.
Assemblyman Bing, in a statement supporting his legislation, referred to police detective James Zadroga, 34, whose death from respiratory disease in February 2006 was linked by the coroner directly to Zadroga's work at ground zero.
"Everyone who saw the fire and debris in the aftermath knew there would be dangers," Bing said. "These men and women put their own health at risk to help New York rebuild. Those who helped are being denied health benefits they deserve."
A parallel bill in the Senate is S07874.
City administration officials told a recent city council meeting that 96.5 percent of the more than 1,200 workers' comp claims received as a result of the tragedy, including the nearly 300 late claims, were valid.
However, in two-thirds of the cases, the New York Times reported, no compensation was paid because workers did not ultimately lose wages or incur major medical costs.
Despite complaints that the two-year deadline was too early, city officials will continue to contest late claims. Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said state law requires that the city "assert the appropriate defense" against claims filed after the deadline.
The deadline issue got national attention when Mayor Michael Bloomberg intervened in a late claim filed by former Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington. Washington, who has a respiratory disease he claims is the result of weeks of work at ground zero, filed his request for benefits in December 2004, 15 months after the deadline. That claim was rejected by the city, reinstated by an administrative judge and again challenged by the city. Bloomberg criticized this latest appeal and ordered the city's law department to find a resolution.
Washington's attorneys are to meet with their city counterparts to continue the discussions.
August 1, 2006
Copyright 2006© LRP Publications