Legal Blunder Threatens Payout for Ground Zero Responders: Report

A blunder by their lawyers could cost Ground Zero responders a share of the $100 million deal settling claims against the Port Authority (PA) and private companies, the New York Post reported Wednesday.

The recently-passed Zadroga Bill excludes people who sign on for other settlements after it becomes law -- and that will happen as soon as it is signed by President Barack Obama, perhaps as early as next week.

The claims include actions filed against the PA, the company that brought Ground Zero debris to Staten Island's Great Kills landfill and two contractors at the landfill.

The 9/11 responders said they still have not received the paperwork to accept the $47.5 million offer from the PA, $24.3 million from the landfill contractors and $29 million from the barge operator.

A source said the law firm representing most of them, Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern, "screwed up" by not mailing out releases on the additional settlements months ago, and now it is too late.

The Zadroga Bill provides $2.8 billion in compensation for economic losses, but only to responders who sign on to additional settlements before it becomes law.

Many might pass entirely on the settlement, since signing on after the bill took effect would make them ineligible for the federal compensation -- although they would still get a share of its $1.5 billion in medical payments.

"My head is spinning," said former NYPD detective Ernie Vallebuona, who suffers from lymphoma and is represented by Worby Groner. "My lawyers have not provided any advice."

The firm's lead lawyer, Paul Napoli, said the fact that his firm reached deals with the PA and the contractors was enough to satisfy the provisions of the Zadroga Bill, adding that "all claims are released as of the date of the settlement agreements with the defendants."

Napoli's firm stands to collect nearly $25 million in fees -- or 25 percent -- from the additional settlements. Lawyers' fees for negotiating individual Zadroga settlements were capped at 10 percent.

The bill honors James Zadroga, a detective who became sick and died after working at Ground Zero.

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