US Appeals Court Revives 9/11 Workers’ Debris Exposure Claims

June 6, 2018 Updated: June 6, 2018    

NEW YORK—A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived claims against the Battery Park City Authority by 18 workers who became ill after cleaning up debris at the World Trade Center site following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected the agency’s challenge to “Jimmy Nolan’s Law,” a 2009 state law giving injured 9/11 workers an extra year to seek compensation from public entities even if the statute of limitations has run out.

By a 3-0 vote, the appeals court said the BPCA was not exempt from the general rule that state entities lack authority to challenge the constitutionality of state laws.

Neither the BPCA nor its outside lawyer, Daniel Connolly, immediately responded to requests for comment. The agency was created in 1968 to help develop downtown Manhattan.

New York’s legislature passed Jimmy Nolan’s Law after U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan dismissed hundreds of lawsuits by 9/11 workers, who complained of respiratory and other illnesses, because they were filed too late.

The law was named for a carpenter from Yonkers who suffered from respiratory problems and skin allergies after doing Ground Zero cleanup.

But after the 18 workers refiled their claims, Hellerstein in December 2014 called the law an “extreme exercise of legislative power” and declared it unconstitutional.

Wednesday’s decision voided that ruling. It came after the federal appeals court asked New York state’s highest court, also called the Court of Appeals, to address issues of state law.

The BPCA had objected that enforcing Jimmy Nolan’s Law could require it to tap its general fund to cover lawsuits.

But the appeals court said accepting this argument would improperly let any public entity challenge the constitutionality of a state law if it claimed to have “some sort of fund from which a judgment might be paid.”

Gregory Cannata, a lawyer for 15 of the workers, said the decision lets his clients again pursue claims over bronchitis, coughing, difficulty breathing, and other illnesses.

“The Jimmy Nolan Law was passed to correct an injustice, that rescuers and clean-up people who cleaned up the 9/11 debris were told time after time that the debris was not dangerous,” he said in an interview. “In fact it was dangerous.”

By Jonathan Stempel

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