Judge Backs 11 Firefighters in Dispute With City

Newsday
August 31, 2002
Judge Backs 11 Firefighters in Dispute With City
William Murphy, Staff Writer

A judge has barred the city from making 11 firefighters pay a fee of $185 each for the right to sue the city for health problems stemming from Sept. 11.

The city had rejected the initial damage claims of the 11 firefighters because they had filed them against the city 10 days past the usual 90-day deadline of the occurrence.

When the firefighters jointly sued to overturn the rejection of the claims, the city not only contested the merits of the suit but demanded they file 11 individual court petitions, at a cost of $185 each.

Justice Saralee Evans, sitting in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, said in a ruling published this week that there was nothing in the law or court rules that required each firefighter to file an individual petition.

The city contended in its papers that the filing fees were required for each legal action because the state-run court system needed the money raised by the fees.

"No other law or court rule is cited for this contention," the judge ruled.

She also granted the firefighters the right to file their late claims for lung damage, and flatly rejected the city's argument that it needed the 90-day notice to adequately defend itself.

"Here, the rescue efforts of the New York City Fire Department during the period following Sept. 11th put the city and the world on notice as to the time, place and circumstances of petitioners' exposure to toxins alleged to have caused pulmonary damage," the judge wrote.

"This is just ludicrous," said David Godosky, the attorney for the firefighters. "Under the radar, they're doing this to the firefighters; in front of the microphones and cameras, they're saying the firefighters are their friends."

"They filed late because their problems developed over time. They were still working at the trade center well into December, not getting time off and exposing themselves to this material," Godosky said.

The firefighters' union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, was also critical of the city's position' "Their public persona is 'We love you' and then they do something like this," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the union.

The city's top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, did not address the merits of the firefighters' case in a statement released Friday.

"The city presented its opinions in court. Although the court disagreed with some of these, we felt they were valid legal arguments. We will continue to evaluate the case," the statement said.