Court awards benefits in 9/11 cancer death

A fireman walks amongst the rubble and the

A fireman walks amongst the rubble and the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York. (Oct. 11, 2001) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A state appeals court decision to award full benefits to the widow of a police officer who died of cancer after 9/11 could help ensure compensation for the disease for first responders, advocates said Wednesday.

But it isn't clear whether it will have much impact on the 1,500 to 1,600 first responders who have lawsuits pending against New York City and the Port Authority.

They have until Jan. 2 to decide whether to drop their suits and join the $7.8-billion federal victim compensation fund.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Nilda Macri of Forest Hills was due accidental line-of-duty benefits after husband Frank, 51, who worked about 350 hours at Ground Zero and at Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, died of lung cancer in 2007.

The decision overturned rulings by the city's police Medical Board and the Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees.

The boards contended that Macri, a nonsmoker, already had the disease before he was diagnosed with an aggressive lung cancer in August 2002.

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The appeals court disagreed, citing a 2005 state law. The law holds that administrative panels should presume the onset of certain illnesses among first responders was caused by their 9/11 exposure.

"What's important is that the appellate court upheld the presumption bill," said Christopher McGrath, a lawyer for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represented Macri.

Sean Riordan, counsel for the FealGood Foundation, a first responder advocacy group, said the court's finding "put teeth" into the law.

But he and McGrath were unsure whether it would have any impact on decisions by first responders who have personally sued the city or Port Authority.

For those with cancer, the question is whether they drop their suits and join the federal fund in hopes that one day cancer will be covered.

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