U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York rejected a settlement between 9/11 workers and their employers. The settlement which would have split $575 million between thousands of workers and their lawyers didn’t seem fair to him. He saw a lot of that money going to pay legal fees rather than medical bills.
Experts are of two opinions on this development. Howard Erichson who teaches complex litigation at Fordham Law School is concerned that there is no procedural basis for a judge to determine fairness in this kind case. The parties are there to present a settlement that has been reached out of court, not have their dispute tried by the court. Taking the other side is Alexandra D. Lahav, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She sees a need for judges to get involved in cases like this where the interests of the attorneys and clients aren’t perfectly aligned. Mass tort cases such as this 9/11 case sometimes need to have someone directly involved in protecting the rights of the plaintiffs as the temptation to milk legal fees while forgetting the best interests of the plaintiffs is great.
It remains to be seen what will happen with this case. They may appeal or individual cases may start going to trial in late Spring.