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A public sewage entity must pay death benefits to the family of a worker who took his own life after a work-related head injury led to a “degradation of his mental status,” the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York ruled Thursday.
The Saratoga County Water District worker’s longtime doctor testified that there was “a noticeable difference in (the man’s) personality, demeanor, . . . speech (and) ability to answer questions” following a May 2015 work injury, according to documents in 2020 NY Slip Op 04222, filed in the court’s Third Department in Albany.
The doctor testified that the worker “complained of headaches, ringing of the ears, changes in vision, somnolence and bedwetting in the years following the injury,” according to documents. The physician “acknowledged that decedent had preexisting mental health issues, and he opined that decedent’s awareness of the inabilities and weaknesses that resulted from the 2015 injury, which impacted his ability to hold a job,” helped “promote and exacerbate his depression.” The doctor concluded that “there is a causal relationship between suicide resulting from depression” following the head injury, according to documents.
Thursday’s ruling affirms two earlier rulings that found the suicide to qualify for survivor benefits. While death benefits are not typical in suicide cases in workers comp, state case law makes for exceptions in that “death benefits may be awarded for a suicide only where the suicide results from insanity, brain derangement or a pattern of mental deterioration caused by work-related injury,” the ruling states.
Legislation in Alaska proposes to modify workers compensation legislation to increase permanent partial impairment and death benefits.