Justice Names 'Queen of Torts' to Head 9/11 Fund

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 01:22 PM

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The Justice Department wants Sheila Birnbaum, a New York trial lawyer dubbed the “Queen of Torts,” to run the $2.8 billion federal compensation fund for stricken ground zero cleanup workers, The Wall Street Journal reports. Birnbaum has a background in 9/11 litigation: She represented families of people killed in the terrorist attacks who chose to sue instead of accepting settlements from a victims fund.

Sheila Birnbaum, 9/11
Sheila Birnbaum represented 9/11 families.
But advocates for the cleanup crews still reacted cautiously to the choice.

“I don’t know her personally, or her experience,” said Dr. Jim Melius of the New York State Laborers Health and Safety Fund. “There’s not much time, and expectations are high and people will have a lot of difficult decisions to make.”

Some participants had hoped that the job would go to a congressional staffer who helped write the funding legislation.

As “special master” of the fund, Birnbaum will have to judge thousands of claims anticipated not just from crews exposed to toxic rubble at the World Trade Center site, but nearby residents and office workers. She also will have to decide which ailments, from cancers to breathing difficulties to post-traumatic stress disorder, qualify for compensation.

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