Diane DiGiacomo, an ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Officer who spent months saving animals abandoned near Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks, died on November 20, at age 52, of breast cancer. Her death came four days after a state judge denied her workers’ comp claim for 9/11-related cancer, according to the New York Daily News. The mother of three spent three months in the shadow of Ground Zero saving cats and dogs abandoned in nearby apartments. She developed aggressive breast cancer that spread to her bones and brain and eventually claimed her life.
In denying DiGiacomo’s claim, Judge Marc Grodsky’s ruling and reasoning left many scratching their heads. The judge conceded there is “no dispute in the medical evidence” that DiGiacomo’s cancer has a causal connection to the toxic fumes at the World Trade Center site. Nevertheless, the judge concluded DiGiacomo was not suffering from an “occupational illness,” because exposure did not arise from the “nature” of her work, but rather from “an environmental condition specific to the place of work.” Thus, in the opinion of the court, “If [DiGiacomo] had been doing her job in a different area, there would be no exposure.”
Naturally, DiGiacomo’s attorney, Sean Riordan, saw the case differently. “It is the nature of her employment to respond to emergencies and save and rescue animals. The judge’s finding to the contrary is outrageous and a stretch.” Adding fuel to the outrage many observers felt was Judge Grodsky’s statement that if DiGiacomo had filed Zadroga Act paperwork before the September 11, 2014 deadline, she would have been protected with benefits under the World Trade Center Health Program. Unfortunately, DiGiacomo’s cancer diagnosis came after that deadline.
DiGiacomo’s case highlights the importance of Congress passing an extension of the Zadroga Act so that other victims of 9/11-related diseases are not denied the benefits they deserve. Ms. DiGiacomo spent the last days of her life imploring Congress to renew the act. According to her brother Paul, vice president of the NYPD Detectives Endowment Association, “I feel she had a purpose. She had to get the message out before she left her loved ones.”
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness, learn your rights. Call Barasch & McGarry at [ln::phone] or contact our office online.