Since my admission to the New York State Bar, I have worked exclusively for law firms representing seriously injured victims of accidents and medical malpractice. I learned how to try cases from some of the most talented trial attorneys in New York City. For the past 22 years, I have been asked to participate in Trial Technique courses for both law students and other lawyers. I am especially proud of my association with the Urban Justice Center. I have long supported its mission and have served on its Board of Directors since 1997. The Urban Justice Center is known for taking very difficult cases on behalf of battered women, runaway youths, Veterans, the mentally ill, and the homeless people of New York. It fights for the poorest people of New York who have neither the resources nor wherewithal to navigate through our court systems. Encouraged by my association with the Urban Justice Center, I agreed to represent 200 elderly homeless people displaced when a crane fell on the Woodstock Hotel in Times Square in 1998. We recovered $5.2 Million for them.
After over a decade of trying major personal injury cases, I joined forces with Jim McGarry, one of my law school classmates. We have won over $2 Billion dollars in verdicts and settlements on behalf of thousands of accident victims, many of them catastrophically injured. There is no more gratifying feeling than when a jury awards an accident victim compensation that will change his life forever. We have been lead counsel in several multi-plaintiff litigations.
I am especially proud of the work that we have done on behalf of injured New York City firefighters. Prior to 9/11, our firm had won many landmark decisions that have shaped the law on their behalf. After helping scores of firefighters receive awards in their individual line of duty accident cases, our firm was thrust into the legal problems of those killed and injured in the World Trade Center attacks. We represented the families of dozens of firefighters killed, as well as over 1,000 first responders who sustained permanent respiratory illnesses from the toxic dust at the WTC site. Federal Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein appointed me as liaison counsel on behalf of all rescue workers injured or killed. We worked closely with Kenneth Feinberg, the Special Master of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), to expand the rules of the Air Transportation Safety and Systems Stabilization Act. Once the injured rescue workers were permitted to make claims to the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, we discontinued their pending cases in Federal Court and brought them all to the VCF. We appealed more than 400 initial awards and participated in hearings before Mr. Feinberg and Department of Justice attorneys and Administrative Court Judges. The VCF closed on December 22, 2003, but not surprisingly, first responders kept getting sick.
Since 2004, our law firm fought to reopen the VCF because so many of our clients continued to be diagnosed with new respiratory illnesses caused by the toxic dust, and/or they were found disabled after they had received an award for a non-disabling injury. We were delighted that in December 2010, Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (Zadroga Act). In January 2011 President Obama signed it into law. The new Fund was named in honor of our client, NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died of pulmonary fibrosis disease in 2006. An autopsy confirmed the existence of ground glass and other particulate matter and WTC toxins in his lungs. This was the concrete medical evidence that advocates needed to help convince Congress to reopen the VCF. As a result, $2.4 billion was made available for medical care and $2.7 billion was set aside for compensation to those whose health deteriorated after 2003 when the first VCF closed. This time, Congress stipulated that the VCF and the WTC Health Program would remain open for just 5 years.
In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. appointed esteemed attorney Sheila Birnbaum as the Fund’s Special Master. She was given the job of organizing efforts to reopen the VCF in order to provide compensation to all the first responders and local residents who were diagnosed with WTC-linked illnesses.
Soon after the new VCF was up and running, peer-reviewed medical studies were published which linked dozens of cancers to the WTC toxic dust. The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) officially added over 60 cancers to the list of compensable illnesses. It was immediately apparent that Congress had not adequately funded the VCF and or the WTC Health Program. It was clear to the medical community that the 70,000 patients who had registered with the WTC Health Program would require a life time of medical monitoring and treatment.
For two years, I worked with NYC lawmakers, union leaders, comedian Jon Stewart (who shamed recalcitrant politicians) and 9/11 advocates such as John Feal, to spread the word that a moral injustice was about to be done to the sick first responders and local residents. If the VCF wasn’t properly funded and extended, thousands of claimants would receive just 40% of what the VCF had promised them. Moreover, life-saving health care would stop for thousands of very sick people. My law firm’s signature contribution to the extension efforts was a series of email blasts to the firm’s nearly 10,000 clients urging them to call their local Congressmen and Senators who represented them in Congress. Our clients, who lived all over the country, incessantly called their representatives’ offices in D.C. and back home. The politicians finally listened. On December 18, 2015 Congress voted to re-authorize and extend the VCF. It provided an additional $4.8 billion to assure that current VCF claimants receive their entire VCF award and so people who are diagnosed with WTC cancers in the next five years are able to receive compensation as well. Moreover, the reauthorization provided $3 billion to the WTC Health Program to ensure that it will remain open and continue to provide medical care for the next 75 years.
At this point, the VCF has been extended to December 18, 2020. We will continue to fight to extend the VCF long after 2020, so that people who desperately need assistance are not left to shoulder their burdens alone. Every day new people in the 9/11 community call us to report that they have been diagnosed with cancer or that their spouse has passed away. What makes our work so gratifying is the appreciation that our clients extend to us. It feels wonderful knowing that our efforts have led to thousands of people obtaining financial security for their families. It is very gratifying to know that we have had such a meaningful impact on our clients’ lives.