July 29, 2020

Filing a claim for workers' compensation benefits death benefits in cases where the cause of death was suicide


An employee [Decedent] sustained a work-related injury to his head and his claim for workers' compensation benefits was thereafter established. Subsequently his family feared that Decedent had attempted suicide and had him hospitalized. Discharged from the hospital, Decedent died by suicide five days later.

Decedent's surviving spouse [Petitioner] filed a claim for workers' compensation death benefits. After conducting a hearing, a Workers' Compensation Law Judge [WCLJ] granted the claim. The Workers' Compensation Board [Board] affirmed the WCLJ's findings and determination. The Appointing Authority, and its third-party administrator [hereinafter collectively [Employer] appealed the Board's decision.

Initially addressing a procedural issue, the Appellate Division rejected the Employer's contention that the Board violated Workers' Compensation Law §23 when it adopted the findings of the WCLJ without a statement setting forth the facts upon which it had relied*.

Turning to the merits of Employer's appeal, the court, citing Matter of Delacruz v Incorporated Vil. of Freeport, 175 AD3d 1739, noted that "[i]t is well settled that workers' compensation death benefits may not be awarded 'when the injury has been solely occasioned ... by wil[l]ful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself [or herself].'" Further, opined the Appellate Division, "[W]orkers' compensation 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."

In Workers' Compensation claims cases involving a suicide the Appellate Division said that the rule is that "the causal relationship between an industrial accident and a resulting mental condition need not be direct and immediate. It is sufficient that the industrial accident is a contributing cause, even if it precipitated [the] decedent's preexisting mental condition."

Finding that the Board's determination that Decedent's suicide was causally related to his work injury was supported by substantial evidence, the Appellate Division said it would not disturb the Board's determination.

* §23 of the Workers' Compensation Law provides that Board decisions shall include "a statement of the facts which formed the basis of its action on the issues raised."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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