9/11 Settlement Headline In NY Post, “The Lawyers’ Payday”, Distorts The Truth


On February 13, 2010, the New York Post reported a settlement of the claims of the workers alleging an injury arising from the 9/11 cleanup of the World Trade Towers, valued at $575 million, with the City of New York. The article on page 21 of the New York Post distorts the truth about legal fees to make the case that the lawyers are the only winners in the settlement.

The author of the article, James R. Copland, states that “[o]f the $600 million or so to be distributed under the settlement agreement, more than a third will go to the plaintiffs’ counsel, assuming they’ve negotiated standard contingent-fee contracts and Judge Alvin Hellerstein approves. The city has already paid over $200 million to its lawyers. Nine years after the terrorist attacks, the victims stand to get less than half of what they’ve ‘won’.”

The author of this article mistakenly assumes that the victims of the 9/11 cleanup must pay for the legal costs incurred in defending the 9/11 claims. The injured victims of the 9/11 cleanup, similar to any other plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, do not pay the cost of defending the lawsuit. This is absurd and gives the appearance that the lawyers for the injured victims are the only real beneficiaries of the settlement.

While a one-third legal fee is the standard fee in personal injury lawsuits in New York (with the exception of medical malpractice cases where the fee is significantly less than one-third), the one-third contingency fee was part of the agreement that the injured victims made with their legal counsel. The fee may be excessive in certain cases, such as in the 9/11 cleanup, but the question must be posed to the author of “The Lawyers’ Payday?”, if the claims of the injured victims had not resulted in a monetary recovery, who would pay for the expenses of the litigation and the time of the plaintiffs’ lawyers? The lawyers for the injured victims would, of course, absorb the entire cost of the litigation and take no fee for years of their time and energy pursuing the lawsuit.

The personal injury contingent fee agreement provides the lawyers with the incentive to spend their time and money only on cases that have merit and are likely to result in a monetary recovery, either by way of settlement or judgment after trial. In the 9/11 cleanup case, the City of New York settled because it considered the likelihood of losing at trial and paying far more than the amount of the settlement. The City of New York obviously considers the settlement to be a good deal to limit its exposure to a much larger Judgment after a trial.

Mr. Copland ignores these facts in his one-sided article, “The Lawyers’ Payday?”, and his slanted article aims to tarnish the image of trial lawyers representing victims of negligence.