The current COVID-19 pandemic and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have challenged the United States in unprecedented ways. While the pandemic is an ongoing health crisis that continues to take American lives, victims of the terrorist attacks still struggle as well, even 19 years later. First responders, police officers, firefighters, and others present at the disaster sites have developed serious health issues such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to a September 2020 article in Newsweek Magazine, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) has confirmed that 3,946 people enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program have died of 9/11-related illnesses. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on many survivors of the terrorist attacks. People with certain underlying health conditions, including respiratory diseases caused by toxic exposure on 9/11, are more vulnerable to dying from COVID-19 because the disease attacks the lungs and immune system.
Perhaps your loved one survived the terrorist attacks and related illness only to succumb to COVID-19. We express our deep condolences if the terrorist attacks and the pandemic has impacted your family in this manner. In addition to dealing with the grief of your sudden loss, you may also have questions about what becomes of your family member’s Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) claim. We would like to pass along the information we have from the VCF and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding this situation. First, however, we want you to know that you are not alone; we are here for you at Gregory Cannata & Associates.
On August 28, 2020, NIOSH released a report indicating that 1,172 first responders and other 9/11 survivors had contracted COVID-19 since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic in March. NIOSH arrived at this figure by studying its tracked cases and obtaining information related to COVID-19 from the World Trade Center Health Program telehealth visits.
The NIOSH report further stated that 153 of the 1,172 first responders enrolled in the WTC Health Program required hospitalization due to COVID-19, and 24 died. The organization kept separate records for other survivors of the attack. Among this group, 283 had a confirmed case of COVID-19, 43 required hospitalization, and 20 died.
The NIOSH report indicates that 9/11 first responders and survivors who already had COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, or another lung disease were especially vulnerable to developing serious complications or dying from COVID-19. People with pre-existing lung issues are also at a higher risk of developing pneumonia due to COVID-19 that can progress to acute respiratory distress or sepsis. The WTC Health Program has since updated its guidelines to improve service to people who have both a 9/11-related illness and COVID-19. Sadly, this has come too late for people who have already passed away due to the pandemic.
A common question that we receive at Gregory Cannata & Associates is when a person with a confirmed 9/11-related illness dies from COVID-19. Family members naturally want to know how this might impact a wrongful death claim they file on behalf of their loved one when the death certificate lists COVID-19 as the primary cause of death.
VCF program rules state that the claimant must have suffered physical harm or death due to their work or presence at the terrorist attack sites and their involvement with debris clean-up and removal. When processing claims for wrongful death, the VCF requires an official death certificate to verify if the person died of a 9/11-related illness. According to guidelines from the CDC, a standard death certificate should contain the following information:
· Immediate cause of death
· Underlying causes of death, which refers to health conditions that contributed to the immediate cause of death
· Any other significant contributing factors that caused the death
The VCF will typically approve a wrongful death claim if any illness included on its list of eligible health conditions appears as the immediate, underlying, or contributing cause of death. That means if your family member developed pulmonary fibrosis after working as a 9/11 first responder and later contracted and died from COVID-19, the VCF should process a wrongful death claim as it normally would. COVID-19 need not be the primary cause of death indicated on your loved one’s death certificate.
Gregory Cannata & Associates have served people harmed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and their family members since late 2001 and through various updates to the VCF and WTC Health Program. We invite you to contact us at 888-982-8428 if your loved one has recently died from COVID-19 and had previously applied for compensation through the VCF.
A loss of a loved one can be an incredibly challenging situation with the ongoing pandemic. Our attorneys want to see you receive the benefits your family deserves on behalf of your deceased loved one. Please don’t hesitate to reserve your free consultation today at 888-982-8428 with Gregory Cannata & Associates.
Robert Grochow has over 30 years of experience as a personal injury lawyer in New York, serving as co-counsel in over a thousand cases. He has also received recognition as one of New York’s “Most Honest Lawyers” from the National Law Journal/Washington Post.