Mr. Pfeifer, who helped clean up Ground Zero and was a powerful voice for 9/11 injury victims, succumbed to cancer at age 59.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro remembered Mr. Pfeifer as “a true fighter who bravely battled fires as a New York City firefighter and fought tirelessly for all first responders who — like him — suffered from World Trade Center-related illness.” Shortly after retiring, he developed stage four cancer because of his work at the Twin Towers site. Thereafter, despite his serious illness, Mr. Pfeifer was a regular on Capitol Hill, advocating for the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Thanks to people like Mr. Pfeifer and New York attorney Paul J. Napoli, lawmakers passed the Zadroga Act in 2010 and extended it five years later.
In 2016, Mayor DeBlasio gave Mr. Pfeifer a key to the city.
The Zadroga Act
Formerly known as the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, H.R.1786 provides benefits to injured 9/11 victims through 2090. The law’s namesake -- James Zadroga -- was an NYPD detective and 9/11 emergency responder. He died of pulmonary fibrosis after he inhaled toxic dust at the Trade Center site. The Zadroga Act applies to:
- Lower Manhattan residents and workers,
- Construction workers,
- Emergency responders (whether they were from New York or another jurisdiction), and
- 9/11 volunteers.
Injury victims who contracted one of sixty-eight kinds of illnesses are eligible for benefits from the expanded, $3.5 billion Victims Compensation Fund. Some of the covered illnesses include PTSD, leukemia, many serious respiratory problems, and “[a]ny type of cancer that occurs in less than 15 cases per 100,000 persons per year in the United States.”
To obtain these funds, injury victims must file claims within two years of their diagnosis. This deadline is extremely strict and fund administrators almost never grant exceptions. Paul J. Napoli explained that the time limitation on new claims was a tradeoff for the extension of benefits. Furthermore, he pointed out, although benefits are available, fund administrators are not necessarily willing to make disbursements.
Many 9/11 injury victims do not go to the doctor immediately after they begin experiencing breathing problems, and once they go, many physicians do not diagnose serious pulmonary diseases that usually do not occur in young or middle-aged adults who are otherwise healthy. These delays often mean that victims come against the two-year time limit, particularly if the Special Master believes that they should have discovered their illnesses sooner.
Furthermore, emergency responders and other individuals who spent a significant amount of time near Ground Zero usually have their claims approved, but other victims who were quickly evacuated or further away from the Twin Towers often have a harder time proving Zadroga Act claims.
As one of the law’s architects, Paul J. Napoli is well-positioned to advocate for victims who find themselves in precarious situations, and he often accepts Zadroga Act cases that other lawyers believed were hopeless.
Zadroga Act Procedure
Victim/plaintiffs must convince the Special Master that they:
- Sustained physical injuries due to the 9/11 attack in New York,
- Are covered under the Zadroga Act (e.g. first responder or construction worker),
- Sought treatment from a medical professional within a reasonable time after discovering their injuries, and
- Have a listed condition diagnosis that’s supported by reliable medical evidence.
Most claims settle out of court.
Available compensation includes money for medical bills and other economic damages, along with money for emotional distress and other noneconomic damages. Victims who receive Zadroga Act benefits waive their right to sue for additional damages in civil court.
The Zadroga Act is a little like expanded workers’ compensation for 9/11 victims. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We have offices in eight different states.