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The mother of a boy who died while illegally working at a farm failed to show that the farm owner’s actions were so egregious as to fall within an exception of the Workers Compensation Act.
In Smith v. Park, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Third Department unanimously affirmed a New York Workers Compensation Board’s decision to dismiss the mother’s complaint against the farm owner seeking damages for her son’s death.
In July 2015, 14-year-old Alex Smith died while operating a skid steer owned by Park Family Farm. The boy had been working at the farm illegally and was using the heavy equipment without permission when the accident occurred.
His mother, Vicky Smith, sought workers compensation death benefits, and the farm, which had carried comp coverage at the time of the accident, accepted the accidental injury claim. The farm was also directed by the workers compensation board to pay increased death benefits as a result of the illegal employment.
Ms. Smith filed a complaint against the farm’s owner, Luke Park, alleging that he engaged in criminal conduct that was related to her son’s death. Mr. Park moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ms. Smith’s lawsuit was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers Compensation Act.
The board dismissed the lawsuit, holding that Ms. Smith failed to show that the conduct of Mr. Park brought the case within an exception to the act.
The appellate court affirmed the decision. The court noted that the board had already determined that the boy’s injuries were “suffered accidentally and in the course of employment” and that Ms. Smith failed to show that Mr. Park engaged in “deliberate acts ... to injure [the boy] or to have him injured.”
Although Mr. Park could have been considered negligent in his supervision of the boy, the appellate court found that Ms. Smith presented no evidence that he acted out of “a willful intent to harm” as is required to show an exception to the exclusive remedy provision of the Act.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Wednesday a bill that requires farm employers to provide workers compensation for laborers, institutes injury reporting requirements and offers laborers additional protections.