New York City Police Officer’s Death Related To 9/11 Work Exposure
On January 5, 2006 former New York City Police Officer James Zadroga died of respiratory disease. Officer Zadroga performed rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center during the month following the September 11 tragedy. Shortly afterwards he developed a chronic cough, shortness of breath and acid reflux. Over time he had increased difficulty breathing and lost meaningful weight. During the four and one half years between his exposure and eventual death Officer Zadroga sought recognition from the government that his condition was related to his September 11 exposure. He also sought assistance in meeting his medical and financial obligations. The government denied these requests.
Under New Jersey Workers Compensation Law the kind of exposure Officer Zadroga consistent would be compensable. His employer would be responsible for providing medical treatment, pay for time out of work and a final payment of long-lasting disability benefits. In the case of his death, the employer would also be responsible for providing Officer Zadroga’s dependents, in his case his young daughter, with dependency benefits.
There are two types of compensable incidents acknowledged by New Jersey Workers Compensation Law. The more shared of the two is the specific accident. Slip and falls, car accidents and lifting injuries are chief examples of specific accidents. However, New Jersey Workers Compensation Law also acknowledges occupational exposures as being compensable. Officer Zadroga consistent this kind of injury.
Occupational exposure injuries occur over a period of time. No one specific incident causes the injury. Instead, continued and repeated exposures to unhealthy conditions cause the worker to suffer an injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive motion injuries and pulmonary disease are chief examples of occupational injuries. To be compensable, an occupational exposure must be more than minimal and must be disinctive to the work place.
The phrase “more than minimal” relates to the length of the exposure. A fleeting exposure may not rule to a compensable injury. There is no set amount of time that separates a minimal exposure from one that is more than minimal. The Courts apply a “reasonableness” standard. Officer Zadroga spent 16 hour days sifting by the World Trade center debris. He spent a total of 470 hours performing this job. By any reasonable understanding of the term, this length of exposure to harsh pulmonary irritants must be considered more than minimal.
The exposure must also be disinctive to the workplace. If it is the kind of exposure that you would find in normal, everyday life it will not be compensable. If the injury is due to the normal aging course of action it will also not be compensable. Officer Zadroga was exposed to the more than one million tons of dust and debris that resulted from the collapse of the twin towers. This included exposure to multiple toxic chemicals, including asbestos. It is difficult to imagine another exposure of this kind.
Officer Zadroga’s autopsy results have recently been released. After reviewing the officer’s lungs and other vital organs the coroner determined that the cause of death was directly related to the September 11 tragedy. Although this finding came too late to help Officer Zadroga, it may cause the appropriate government agencies to change their position regarding the cause of lung disease for post September 11 workers. It also may assist aggressive attorneys in powerful these agencies to change that position. This would help the many other individuals who suffer from post September 11 lung disease to acquire benefits for themselves and, if appropriate, for their loved ones.