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Higher Settlement for Sick 9/11 Responders Proposed

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NEW YORK - Lawyers representing the city and thousands of ground zero workers suing over their exposure to toxic dust from the World Trade Center on Thursday proposed an increased settlement offer of $625 million to $712.5 million that also sets a cap on legal fees.

Lawyers presented the deal - more than $100 million higher than an initial settlement offer a federal judge initially rejected - at a court hearing.

"We believe a debt was incurred on 9/11 ... and that this debt goes a long way toward repaying that debt," said Paul Napoli, a lawyer representing thousands of police officers, firefighters and construction workers who became ill after working on the cleanup of ground zero after Sept. 11.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein did not immediately rule on the proposal.

The two sides have been renegotiating the package for nearly three months. In March, Hellerstein criticized the original settlement - valued at $575 million to $657 million _ as too rich for the lawyers and too stingy for the most seriously ill responders.

The original settlement would have required a 95 percent approval rate of the workers for it to take effect - a number some legal observers saw as unattainable once Hellerstein publicly called the settlement inadequate.

Under the original legal settlement, the 40 to 60 percent of the plaintiffs with relatively minor ailments would get payments of $3,250 to $9,760. The rest, who are more seriously ill, would get more, with a few getting as much as $1 million.

Margaret Warner, lawyer for insurer WTC Captive, said Thursday that under the new settlement, attorneys' fees would drop to 25 percent from 33.3 percent, which would give the plaintiffs $50 million more.

The lawyers have been laboring "to bring this litigation to a just conclusion," Warner said.

Michael A. Cardozo, the city's top lawyer, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg favored the new proposal.

"We believe this settlement is fair to all concerned," he said.

The deal covers a broad list of ailments suspected of being linked to trade center dust, including asthma, chronic coughing and interstitial lung disease, which involves scarring of lung tissue. Some types of cancer are also covered.
___

Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.



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