What is 9/11 VCF & WTC Health Program?
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, many injured victims considered filing damage claims against the airlines who negligently allowed the 9/11 hijackers to board their planes. Fearing that such litigation could effectively bankrupt commercial carriers, lawmakers created the WTC Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund aka WTC VCF. As of the end of 2016, this World Trade Center fund had paid over $2 billion in compensation to 9/11 victims in New York and elsewhere; about half that money went to injured first responders. These funds were to pay healthcare expenses for victims of 9/11 cancers and other injuries. The Special Master in charge of the victims’ compensation fund is working through a backlog of cases, so now is an excellent time to file a claim for damages.
Paul J. Napoli and some of the other members of Napoli Law’s legal team were on the ground floor of the World Trade Center Victims Compensation Fund (or WTC VCF for short), working tirelessly in both the courthouse and the statehouse to ensure that injured victims had access to the financial resources they needed to combat their 9/11-related cancer, illnesses and injuries. Today, we tenaciously represent these victims before the Special Master, fighting for the compensation, and respect, they deserve.
How Much Money Can I Get?
Similar to the workers’ compensation system, the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund was originally designed to be a reasonable alternative to the tort litigation against airliners outlined above. The theory was that 9/11 victims, and their families, would choose the quick and easy path of the VCF fund as opposed to the relative risk of individual damage claims. But in many cases, the VCF system is neither fast nor fair, and the assistance of an experienced and aggressive 9/11 lawyer is often the only way to level the playing field.
Kenneth Feinberg, the first Special Master, prioritized emergency responder injury claims, and many of his successors have continued that approach. Most everyone else goes to the back of the line. This waiting is common for victims who do not have VCF lawyers, because the Special Master rather logically concludes that if they do not take their cases seriously, neither should the SM.
Mr. Feinberg also famously declared that 15 percent of the victims should not get 85 percent of the money, which means that the SM often undervalues the injuries of financial professionals and other highly-compensated victims. A WTC VCF attorney can convince the SM to award damages based on the facts of the case.
These damages include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. A damage cap may apply to emotional distress and other noneconomic damages.
Who is Eligible?
In 2011, the Zadroga Act, which Paul J. Napoli helped engineer, greatly expanded the World Trade Center Victims Compensation Fund’s exposure zone. The northern boundary of the exposure zone moved to a line that follows Canal Street, East Broadway, and Clinton Street. As a result, 9/11 injury victims in Chinatown and other neighborhoods closer to Midtown are eligible for compensation.
Furthermore, claimants must have been present in the Exposure Zone on 9/11 or in the year after the attack.
Generally, the SM almost rubber-stamps cases involving emergency responders at Ground Zero, an approach that is noble but necessarily means that there is less money for other victims. Victims without WTC lawyers must answer tough questions from the SM, so the chances of obtaining fair compensation are greatly reduced.
What Conditions Are Eligible?
Many 9/11 victims in New York sustained a wide variety of injuries to their bodies and spirits. Both types of injuries are eligible for WTC VCF awards. Some common injuries include:
- Trauma Wounds: Typically, only victims at or near Ground Zero at or near 9:00 on 9/11 are eligible for Victims Compensation Fund awards for head injuries, broken bones, deaths caused by falling objects, and other such injuries.
- Mental Health Issues: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the most commonly-diagnosed illness on a list that also includes adjustment disorder, depression, panic disorder, and even some forms of substance abuse.
- Musculoskeletal Health: Only 9/11 emergency responders can obtain WTC VCF awards for lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other similar conditions.
- Cancer: There are over fifty types of cancer, commonly referred to as "9/11 cancers", on the approved conditions list, most notably including any “rare” cancer that occurs in fewer than 15 individuals per 100,000 population.
Typically, a 9/11 cancer or illness is not like a Social Security Disability illness, because while an SSD claimant may have a condition that is “substantially similar” to a listed condition, the VCF usually makes no such allowances.
Many of these conditions, like cancer, are difficult to diagnose. Additionally, these conditions may not have an obvious link to 9/11, especially if the victim was in the Exposure Zone for a few days in the months after the attack. Either scenario could mean a delay or a denial.
An experienced VCF lawyer can help
During your initial consultation, our attorneys know the right questions to ask concerning your whereabouts in the months after 9/11. Then, our professional staff can refer you to a competent physician, in most cases. Typically, that doctor will diagnose your condition and outline a treatment plan without any cost to you. Since that doctor is armed with information about your possible 9/11 injury, the diagnosis and treatment plan will probably be more accurate.
As to the link between 9/11 and cancer or illness, the Special Master rarely considers a mere presence in the Exposure Zone to be sufficient, so WTC VCF claimants without assertive advocates are at a definite disadvantage. An attorney can introduce additional evidence, and make cogent legal arguments, that make the link much more apparent.
How Long Do I Have to File a WTC Claim?
Under current law, the claims deadline is December 18, 2020. Any claims filed after that date will not be considered. That includes both new and refiled claims, so if the SM dismisses your claim due to a lack of evidence, you acquire that new evidence and refile the claim after the deadline, the SM will not even look at it.
As mentioned earlier, it takes time to build a winning claim, given the inherent difficulties in disease diagnosis and 9/11 link. Therefore, it’s important to hire an experienced WTC VCF attorney right away, because given the amount of time it takes the SM to review claims, you may not have an opportunity to refile a dismissed claim, so you and your family may miss out on the financial compensation available.
Nineteen years after 9/11 is a long time in many respects, but in terms of the WTC Compensation Fund, it is not a very long time at all, considering the nature of these illnesses. Some VCF injuries, most notably mesothelioma, or other asbestos-related illnesses, may take up to thirty or forty or more years to develop. At Napoli Shkolnik, victim compensation is our number one priority, so we are already working behind the scenes to help ensure that WTC victims get the compensation they deserve, even if their 9/11 cancer or illness does not become apparent for several more decades.
File Your WTC Victims’ Compensation Fund Claim Today
Some of the most experienced 9/11 injury lawyers in New York are right here at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Our savvy professionals will quickly evaluate your claim, collect the necessary evidence, file all appropriate claims forms and paperwork, and then aggressively represent you before the SM. Call today for a free consultation.