Is the Zadroga Act intended to provide health care or is it a compensation statute meant to compensate first responders and Ground Zero workers for injuries?
Both. The Zadroga Act was intended to provide much needed health evaluations, health care and medical monitoring to responders and clean-up workers, and it also reopens the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, which closed on June 15, 2004.
What is the Victim Compensation Fund?
In 2001, after the September 11th terror attacks, Congress passed the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act which contained the original Victim Compensation Fund. The ATSSSA predicted that there could be thousands of lawsuits brought by victims’ families against the airlines whose planes were hijacked. There was a concern that so many lawsuits might jeopardize the financial stability of the airline industry. The VCF was designed to provide a reasonable alternative to lawsuits by offering compensation for losses like those available in litigation.
Is compensation limited to first responders?
Absolutely not. An individual must merely have been present at the 9/11 crash site or within the designated areas. If you were present at any the designated areas within the specified dates and have been diagnosed with one of the qualifying illnesses, you should be eligible for compensation through the Victim Compensation Fund. Whether you worked in the rescue, recovery and clean-up or or simply lived within the designated areas or worked at an unrelated job within the designated areas makes no difference.
Is it too late to register or apply for compensation?
No. There was an October 3, 2013 registration deadline that did apply to some victims. However, new illnesses and cancers were added to the list of covered diagnoses so later deadlines do exist and may be applicable based on the illness and other individual circumstances. It may be helpful to discuss yours or a loved one’s specific illness with an expert attorney familiar with each of the different deadlines.
Why did the original Compensation Fund close and why did it have to be reopened?
The original VCF was only available to people who were present at the attack sites at time of the attacks or immediately after them, and suffered physical harm or death as a result of the airplane crash. According to the regulations, In order to be eligible the claimant had to get medical care for the injury within 72 hours of the attack. It excluded people injured during the recovery and cleanup operations. The Fund now recognizes injuries and illnesses suffered following the attack, from September 12, 2001 through March 30, 2002.
Does the new Victim Compensation Fund have similar requirements about being present at the site?
Yes. There are new rules of eligibility that apply to the reopened VCF. The original statute said that a victim had to be killed or injured during the terror attacks or in the “immediate aftermath” which was defined by the regulation as someone injured and seeking medical care within 72 hour of the attacks. The Zadroga Act redefines “immediate aftermath” to be the 8 1⁄2 month period from September 11, 2001 until May 30, 2002, and is designed to include rescue, recovery and clean-up workers.
Does the Zadroga Act’s changes to the Victim Compensation Fund limit claims to people who were actually at the World Trade Center site?
No. The original VCF said that a claimant had to be present at one of the three attack sites, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Zadroga Act vastly expands the areas covered to include the buildings and surrounding areas affected by fire, explosions, falling debris and any area related to or along the routes of debris removal like the barges and Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. It is designed to include all people who are ill or injured as a result of work related to the September 11 attacks.
What kinds of damages are recoverable in the Victim Compensation Fund?
The VCF will pay compensation for both economic losses and non-economic losses caused by injuries or illnesses to rescuers, responders and clean-up workers. Economic losses mean financial losses like lost earnings and benefits, loss of services and loss of employment or business opportunities. Non-economic losses include pain and suffering, mental anguish, physical impairment, and loss of enjoyment of life. There are the same types of damages recoverable in a lawsuit.
How does the Victim Compensation Fund differ from a lawsuit?
There are significant differences, some positive and some negative. On the positive side, a claimant does not have to prove anyone was negligent or at fault in order to recover from the VCF, and it will should easier proving an injury is caused by toxic exposure in the aftermath of the attacks. On the other hand, compensation awards will be made by a Special Master rather than a jury, and there will be no traditional right to appeal to a court.
Which physical injuries and illnesses will qualify me to make a claim in the VCF?
The Zadroga Act identifies a list of specific ailments and also allows flexibility in adding new illnesses if it is appropriate. The fund will compensate personal injury or death resulting from traumatic physical injuries that occurred as a result of the crashes or debris removal. The following are presumptively covered physical illnesses which are included in the list of ailments suffered by WTC responders and recognized by the VCF : thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, Interstitial lung diseases; chronic respiratory disorders; asthma; reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS); chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); chronic cough syndrome; upper airway hyper-reactivity; chronic rhinosinusitis; chronic nasopharyngitis; chronic laryngitis; gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD); sleep apnea; certain musculoskeletal disorders (back problems, carpel tunnel, muscular problems); and an additional variety of cancers as determined by the WTC Administrators based on medical evidence including studies by hospital programs treating first responders. Current list of WTC-related illnesses and cancers
Are VCF claims limited to the physical illnesses and ailments listed above?
This is an open question. A variety of mental health conditions are included in the medical care portion of the Zadroga Act, like: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); major depressive disorder; panic disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; nonspecific depression and anxiety; acute stress disorder; dysthymic disorder; and adjustment disorder. The statutory language in the original VCF limited it to physical injuries. Some mental condition may be considered physical injuries. This is an important area in which consulting an experienced attorney can make a significant difference in achieving a successful outcome.
Is there any chance that other illnesses will be added?
Absolutely. The WTC Administrator has the ability to gather evidence and add more illnesses though the regulatory process. Interested persons also can petition for a particular disease to be included and the WTC Administrator has a duty to investigate it and seek comments.
What if I had medical issues before September 11 that were aggravated by my work at the WTC or other included areas?
The VCF specifically recognizes aggravation of pre-existing injuries and will provide compensation to the extent a condition has been made worse.