February 4, 2010
Sept 11th First Responder Suits in Settlement Talks
The New York Times has published an article by Mireya Navarro entitled "Effort to Settle Sept. 11th Lawsuits". The article describes (albeit without much detail) the efforts to settle the lawsuits brought by first responders against various contractors and New York City in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of September 11th. Twelve cases have been scheduled to go to trial in May 16, ten thousand total have been brought against approximately 200 defendants. Apparently there is a 70 page settlement plan and the judge says that the parties have been working "very hard." The article also mentions a bill pending in Congress to compensate the workers at the disaster site, similar to that created to compensate the victims of the tragedy.
The judge is using a relatively sophisticated approach to sampling, first surveying the class and using a severity chart to pick cases for trial. The special masters that came up with it are both law professors and experts in mass torts: Aaron Twersky (Brooklyn) and James Henderson (Cornell).
The article quotes two law professor mass tort experts. Anthony Sebok (Cardozo) explains the difficulty of the causation issues: "“There’s not a lot of experience with this kind of risk, [i]t may be very difficult from a technical point of view to get testimony from experts.”
Richard Nagareda (Vanderbilt) explains “Ultimately, everybody understands there’s going to be some sort of comprehensive settlement. The question is, what is the price?”
I am working on a paper that attempts to answer this question - what is the best way to determine the price. I think holding some sample trials is the best way, but it sounds like the players in this litigation disagree and would prefer to reach a settlement prior to trial. The judge is prepared for this and apparently has suggested having multiple judges try the sample cases rather than trying them together.
Impending trials have a way of focusing the mind. I predict a settlement by May.
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