New Jersey will pay about $53 million to settle claims that the state's negligence contributed to the deaths of more than 100 veterans at state-run homes during the coronavirus pandemic, attorneys representing the bulk of the claimants said Thursday.

The settlement reached this week involved the families of 119 residents of veterans homes in Paramus and Menlo Park, according to attorney Paul da Costa. Da Costa's firm represented 72 of the claimants, who will receive about $32 million in total. The families had filed notices of intent to sue but hadn't yet formally filed lawsuits, da Costa said.

"This settlement of course does not replace their lost loved ones who served their countries honorably, but it certainly represents a good measure of civil justice," da Costa said. "My clients do take satisfaction in the fact that there has been a resolution that they believe gives a voice to their lost loved ones."

More than 200 residents of the homes have died during the pandemic. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's administration came under criticism in April 2020 when it directed veterans homes not to turn away patients who had tested positive, an order that was later rescinded.

In October 2020, the Justice Department sent a letter to Murphy questioning its nursing home death count and announced it was launching a formal investigation of the state's veterans homes after receiving what it described as incomplete answers to an earlier request for data.

During the first months of the pandemic, New Jersey also took steps to protect long-term care facilities like veteran's homes from liability for basic negligence if they were considered to be acting in good faith during the public health emergency.

That raised the bar for potential lawsuits, said attorney Scott Piekarsky, whose firm represented 14 families of veterans who had lived at the Paramus facility and whose claims accused the facility of gross negligence.

"These weren't easy, slam dunk cases, but we felt we had enough and we were going to stay the course," Piekarsky said. "The state did the right thing in not putting these families through years and years of litigation."

Messages seeking comment on the settlement were left Thursday with Murphy's office and with the state attorney general's office. The settlement was first reported  by NJ.com.

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