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My NY Post Column on 9/11 lawsuits

Last week, The New York Post reported that lawyers stand to earn about half of the proceeds to be distributed in the mass-tort litigation pending before Southern District judge Alvin Hellerstein. As I write in today's Post, we shouldn't be too surprised:

This was entirely predictable: As I wrote in The Post in October 2006, federal district Judge Alvin Hellerstein's decision to allow these lawsuits to proceed against New York City was "simply wrong." I warned that, for all Hellerstein's claims that he didn't want to "enrich lawyers with endless stratagems of motions and delays," his ruling would do just that.

Here we are, 3 1/2 years later, and defense lawyers hired by the city have already made some $200 million, plus $75 million in administrative expenses. The lawyers for the plaintiffs, meanwhile, expect to collect big-time if they win - contingency fees that will eat up a third of the award, plus expenses that (as The Post reported) will push their total past the halfway mark. . . .

It didn't have to be this way. If, back in 2006, Judge Hellerstein had properly given the city the immunity to which it was entitled under the state Defense Emergency Act, our elected representatives could have crafted a reasonable plan to take care of those injured in brave service during our time of tragedy.

It wouldn't have been easy or costless, but out-of-court government compensation systems in other contexts have shown themselves to be fair, with much faster payout times and much lower administrative costs. With $1 billion in federal cash on top of billions more in available insurance proceeds, even New York's inept City Council could have developed a better system than what we're witnessing in Judge Hellerstein's courtroom.

That approach would not have enriched the litigation industry. And it wouldn't have allowed Judge Hellerstein to preside as king in the latest mass-tort legal farce. But it would have been better for everyone else involved.

UPDATE: John Stossel reacts here. And watch O'Reilly tomorrow night (2/16), where John is scheduled to comment on the 9/11 cases.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.