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Lawyers spar over first 9/11 health lawsuits

Lawyers defending New York City against thousands of lawsuits filed by Sept. 11 emergency responders say many of the claims are baseless and have asked a judge to dismiss some of the first cases headed toward trial.

In a series of court filings late Tuesday, the city's legal team detailed several instances in which it said people who claimed to have been sickened by World Trade Center ash were already ill before the attacks.

One former Fire Department battalion chief who attributed respiratory problems to the dust had been granted a disability pension for the same type of breathing ailments in 1999, the city said.

A 400-pound utility worker who said he developed shortness of breath and other health problems after being deployed to Ground Zero had breathing problems diagnosed before 2001, the city said.

City lawyers also cited the case of a Staten Island construction worker who blamed a litany of health ailments on exposure to Ground Zero dust, even though he had previously filed a medical malpractice case blaming some of the same problems on a chronic gastrointestinal disease he'd had since the 1990s.

The city asked the judge presiding over the case to dismiss 17 suits on a variety of grounds. More than half of the cases involve police and firefighters, and many have been brought by Long Islanders.

Paul Napoli, lead lawyer for more than 9,000 police officers, firefighters, laborers and other workers, dismissed the city's motions as posturing Wednesday.

"He thinks these guys should go home and get no money," Napoli said of James Tyrrell, lead attorney for the city. "He does not think much of police officers or firefighters."

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