Professor Aaron Twerski is a preeminent authority in the areas of products liability and tort law and he has garnered numerous awards, including the American Bar Association's Robert B. McKay Law Professor Award and the American Law Institute's R. Ammi Cutter Reporter, to name just a few.
His reputation led to the appointment in 2006 by Senior Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York as one of two Special Masters to the Court to help manage the litigation of nearly 10,000 rescue workers who sued the City and its contractors contending that they felt they were not properly warned or equipped to work on the toxic World Trade Center site in the aftermath of 9/11. Twerski and Cornell Law Professor James Henderson Jr. (a frequent co-author of Twerski’s) helped to create an elaborate database that differentiated the exposures and various backgrounds of each claimant and the nearly 400 diseases from which claimants suffered. The purpose of the database, he explains, was to “get a handle on what the population was and how many injuries were serious in order to create a demographic to settle the cases or go to trial.”
He managed the assessment of 350 questions that helped define the plaintiff/defendant population by categorizing injuries according to American Medical Association standards. After determining what could be considered as objective criteria, it became clear that a settlement was possible. In June 2010, the majority of the parties settled for approximately $700 million. Twerski says “there was no other litigation like this in the history of the United States. Managing the massive amount of information was unprecedented. We dealt with excellent counsel on both sides and a very intelligent judge who was insistent that the entire proceedings be as transparent as possible.”
In 2012, Judge Hellerstein once again appointed Twerski and Henderson as Special Masters to oversee a second round of mass tort claims. This time approximately 1,000 brought suit against building owners for being exposed to toxic dust when cleaning over 100 buildings in the aftermath of 9/11.
As a result of this experience, Twerski, Henderson, and Hellerstein jointly wrote an article about the process of managerial judging that will be published in the Cornell Law Review. This massive endeavor was unusual because it was not a class action but was comprised of numerous separate cases. They outline a detailed description of the cases and the difficulties involved with managerial judging. There was some criticism of Judge Hellerstein, Twerski explained, because the judge was thought to have “exceeded his powers by managing the discovery process.” However, Twerski and Henderson both argue that Hellerstein’s motives and actions were right, and that the settlement that was reached was fair.
Learn more about his forthcoming column and about his experience as a Special Master.