9/11 fund administrator publishes draft rules

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 22, 2011, 7:40am

Sheila Birnbaum

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- September 11th Victim Compensa­tion Fund Special Master Sheila Birnbaum on Tuesday published draft regulations to govern the fund.

Birnbaum is asking the public to give feedback on the proposals before victims can begin submitting claims later this year.

The VCF was created under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act to reactivate the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that operated from 2001 to 2003. The act expands the pool of claimants to include first responders and other individuals who experienced latent physical injuries associated with the attacks or with debris removal.

Birnbaum's draft rules include a process by which claimants from the first VCF can amend their claims to reflect new injuries and an allowance for the fund to cover additional health conditions as scientific knowledge evolves.

The draft rules also significantly expand the geographic area covered by the VCF from its first iteration. The fund will begin by covering the same physical injuries that are covered by the medical monitoring and treatment program that the Zadroga Act established as the VCF's companion program.

In an email to potential VCF claimants and others, Birnbaum reiterated that her goal is "to create a process that is fair, transparent and easy to navigate."

She said the proposed rules will help the VCF make its decisions based on the best scientific and medical evidence that is available, and that the rules seek to minimize administrative expenses and maximize the funds available to be distributed to claimants.

Birnbaum, a New York native, was appointed as Special Master by Attorney General Eric Holder on May 18. She succeeds Ken Feinberg, now the administrator of a fund for victims of the Gulf oil spill.

The Skadden Arps lawyer made headlines years ago when she accidentally sent an email critical of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to members of the press.

State Farm was one of five insurance companies sued by Hood after 2005's Katrina. After a settlement of 640 claims was rejected by a federal judge for procedural reasons, Hood sued State Farm for not making the rejected settlement work.

State Farm sued Hood, claiming he was threatening the company with a criminal investigation to coerce a civil settlement. The two sides reached a confidential settlement in 2007.

The parties disagreed heavily over the circumstances of the settlement. Hood wrote in a column that "allegations lodged against me by this insurer were shown to be false," while his press secretary wrote the only reason the outcome was referred to as a "settlement" is because "the details of the Attorney General's criminal investigation needed to be protected. The case was dismissed because the allegations were false."

Birnbaum accidentally sent an email to members of the press that said, "This is so over the top. Can we ask that (Hood) be held in contempt of court for misrepresenting a settlement agreement and order of the court?"

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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