The current list of 9/11 injury victims, as long as it is, could only be “the tip of the iceberg,” according to New York thoracic surgeon Dr. Raja Flores.
Clouds of toxic dust laced with asbestos, fibreglass, mercury, and benzene swept over the streets of Manhattan on 9/11, and winds undoubtedly carried the particles to the other buroughs as well. In fact, Dr. Flores estimates that the entire population of New York City — some nine million people — may have been exposed to asbestos fibers and other toxic particles. People who were children on 9/11 are especially at risk for developing rare forms of cancer and other serious illnesses, Dr. Flores warned. His grim prognosis is based, in part, on an examination of the tiny Montana town where the asbestos in the Twin Towers came from. Since the 1990s, over 400 residents have died from asbestos-related illnesses, out of a population of less than 2,900. As a result, Dr. Flores said that he would “bet my house” that in fifteen to twenty years, New York will face a major health crisis.
Things could be worse for 9/11 injury victims. When the Twin Towers were under construction in the 1970s, the Port Authority originally planned to use eleven million pounds of asbestos.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer that’s usually only found in asbestos exposure victims. In its natural form, asbestos is a lot like talc, and most of us have seen what happens when a person blows on a handfull of talcum powder.
One microscopic fiber is sufficient to cause a cancerous tumor in the tissue that surrounds the heart and lungs. Since the tumors are in a sensitive area, they are difficult to remove surgically, and since the cancer cells are so close to the cardiovascular core, they spread quickly through the body.
Further complicating matters for 9/11 injury victims, cancer is not easy to diagnose. That’s especially true of lung cancer, a disease that is commonly associated with lifestyle choices and genetics. In fact, if a patient does not smoke and does not have a family history, many doctors do not even consider cancer when patients complain of chest pain, shortness of breath, chronic severe coughing, and other common symptoms.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the average mesothelioma incubation period is 32 years. Therefore, most 9/11 injury victims will not display mesothelioma symptoms until at least 2033, which is squarely within Dr. Flores’ twenty-year timeline. By that time, many people may not quickly make the connection between a long weekend at grandma’s house in Brooklyn with their cancer diagnosis.
Asbestosis, another common condition that 9/11 injury victims may develop, is excessive scar tissue in the lungs. Symptoms of asbestosis can be very dangerous and life-threatening.
Dealing with Mesothelioma
Up until a few years ago, doctors often gave mesothelioma victims only a few months to live following diagnosis. Although there still is no cure, mesothelioma is more manageable today.
Radiation and chemotherapy is much more targeted now, so it may be possible to shrink the tumor with these advanced methods. Surgery is more precise as well, and if doctors cannot remove the entire tumor, many times, they can at least remove most of it. Some cutting-edge techniques involving radio frequency, stem cells, and ultraviolet light may soon be available as well.
With an average treatment bill that may exceed $30,000 a month, these treatments are not cheap.
Filing a Claim for Damages
Proper venue and proper timing are two keys to maximum recovery, according to attorney Paul J. Napoli, who has advocated for 9/11 injury victims almost since cleanup began at Ground Zero.
Bystanders should file claims in civil court. Currently, a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia is working its way through a Manhattan federal courthouse. 9/11 injury victims filed the action shortly after Congress overrode then-President Obama’s veto and authorized such actions. Other possible defendants include Silverstein Properties, the company that owned the World Trade Center on 9/11. First responders and cleanup workers can probably file workers’ compensation claims. Since workers’ compensation is no-fault insruance, liability is easier to establish before the Workers’ Compensation Board than in civil court. However, there is a tradeoff, as damages may be limited.
Proper timing is essential as well, Mr. Napoli emphasized. 9/11 injury victims who file their claims too early may have a hard time establishing actual damages, and victims who file too late risk losing their rights to file damage claims.
The number of 9/11 injury victims will almost certainly increase exponentially in coming decades. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shklonik PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.