Workers’ Compensation – Death Benefits (2004)
Our client’s husband, an accountant, had a heart attack while in his office while he was discussing a tax matter with an associate. We filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, arguing that where death occurs in the course of employment (while someone is working), the law presumes that it also arose out of the employment (was caused by the work). The Workers’ Compensation Board denied the claim, finding that the legal presumption did not apply because the “death was not unwitnessed” since the co-worker saw the man collapse.
We appealed, and the Appellate Division, Third Department reversed the Board’s decision, agreeing with our argument that the rule applies to accidents that are “unexplained,” even if they are not unwitnessed. When the case returned to the Board, death benefits were awarded to the widow. This case created a new legal standard for death claims, holding for the first time that “unwitnessed” and “unexplained” have the same fundamental effect on whether the legal presumption in favor of the worker is to be applied.