When al-Queda terrorists piloted two planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, it triggered one of the largest rescue efforts the country had ever undertaken. At the request of New York City officials, construction contracting companies and thousands of workers helped search for survivors and clean up the debris.
Thereafter, the city and the contractors became the target of more than 10,000 lawsuits by people who claimed that they had been injured by exposure to toxins during the clean-up.
A Weil, Gotshal & Manges team led by partner Michael Lyle represented one of the contractors, Bovis Lend Lease LMB Ltd. Lyle looked for a way around existing law that required claimants to file suit to seek a share of a $1 billion insurance fund established by the World Trade Center Captive Insurance Co.
“You had the heroes of 9/11 litigating against the other heroes of 9/11,” Lyle said. “It was a bad situation, so we wanted to figure out a way to find a resolution that worked for everybody.”
Lyle and his team set out to change the law. They succeeded — in January 2011, President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law. The measure allocated $4.3 billion for 9/11 survivors and rescue workers. It also provided liability protections for the city and the contractors — and allowed access to compensation without the need for litigation.
Almost immediately, the number of suits dropped from 11,000 to fewer than 100. “It achieved a win-win for everyone involved,” Lyle said.
In addition to his role as managing partner of Weil’s Washington office, Lyle is co-leader of the products liability group and serves on the management committee. Before joining Weil in 2001, he was director of the White House Office of Administration under President Clinton.
Lyle now serves as defense liaison counsel for the operators of vessels that responded to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. A lawsuit, brought by landowners, commercial fishermen and oil and gas employees, claimed that the vessel operators who tried to extinguish the fire on the oil drilling rig contributed directly to the oil spill. A trial judge dismissed the case in October 2011, and an appeal is pending before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.