NEW YORK (AP) — Sheila Birnbaum is known in legal circles across New York as the "queen of torts" for her prowess in sorting out complicated cases. But she may be up against her most daunting task to date.

Since Attorney General Eric Holder appointed her special master of a Sept. 11 victims' compensation fund in May 2011, Birnbaum has been responsible for evenhandedly distributing $2.7 billion to ground zero responders and others who became ill after being exposed to dust and ash from the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center.

The problem is, she doesn't quite know how many people will be eligible for compensation.

"We haven't yet received the avalanche of claims that might have been expected," she said, noting that only about 300 people have filed eligibility forms so far. The fund will ultimately receive thousands of applications, she predicts.

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