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NY court gives 9/11 cleanup workers OK to sue for debris exposure

The Court of Appeals rejects a Battery Park City Authority challenge to “Jimmy Nolan’s Law.”

ALBANY — New York’s top court handed a victory to 9/11 cleanup workers Tuesday, giving them the green light to sue asbestos-related lawsuits in federal court.

The state Court of Appeals said the Battery Park City Authority didn’t have legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of a 2009 state law — known as “Jimmy Nolan’s Law” — that gave workers an extra year to file claims.

The ruling means the workers can pursue lawsuits at the federal level.

The workers had claimed they had suffered respiratory illnesses connected to asbestos cleanup work they conducted at properties owned by Battery Park City — including Ground Zero — and that the authority failed to ensure worker safety.

The authority countered that Jimmy Nolan’s Law was essentially an unconstitutional end-run around time constraints for filing such suits, calling an “extreme use of legislative power.”

The Court of Appeals, in a 7-0 decision, disagreed, saying such “revival statutes” are constitutional if “enacted as a reasonable response in order to remedy an injustice.” The court also said the authority, a state entity, didn’t have legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

The law was named for Jimmy Nolan, a Yonkers carpenter who developed respiratory problems and skin allergies following Ground Zero cleanups. It was enacted after a federal court in 2009 dismissed some 600 lawsuits against the authority, saying they were filed too late.

“We’re pleased that our clients—who sacrificed their health and safety to clean up the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks—will finally have the opportunity to pursue their claims and get the justice they deserve,” Luke Nikas, one of the lawyers for the workers, said after the decision was announced. He said 171 cleanup workers would be “directly” impacted by Tuesday’s decision, though it could apply to hundreds more.

Attorneys for the Battery Park City Authority didn’t immediately return a call to comment.

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