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June 21, 2021

Liberal construction to be given to a remedial statute

The Workers' Compensation Board ruled, among other things, that a New York State Trooper [Plaintiff] assigned to a vehicle checkpoint was not a participant in the World Trade Center [WTC] rescue, recovery and cleanup operations and denied Plaintiff's claim for workers' compensation benefits based on his alleged exposure to toxins at the WTC site as untimely.

The Appellate Division said it agreed with the Board's finding that Plaintiff did not sustain an occupational disease, explaining:

1. "An occupational disease derives from the very nature of the employment, not a specific condition peculiar to an employee's place of work, nor from an environmental condition specific to the place of work;" and

2. "To establish an occupational disease, the claimant must demonstrate a recognizable link between his or her condition and a distinctive feature of his or her employment".

The Appellate Division, conceding that toxic substances were present in Plaintiff's work environment at WTC, the indicated the Plaintiff's "alleged disability arose from a specific condition peculiar to his place of work and not from a distinctive feature of his employment as a state trooper."

Turning to Plaintiff's argument that his claim was within the ambit of Workers' Compensation Law Article 8-A, the Board then treated the claim as one for accidental injury and disallowed the claim, finding it untimely.

The Appellate Division said that Article 8-A was enacted "to remove statutory obstacles to timely claims filing and notice for latent conditions resulting from hazardous exposure for those who worked in rescue, recovery or cleanup operations following the [WTC] September 11th, 2001 attack." Accordingly, the court held that "this legislation was intended to be liberally construed to provide a potential avenue of relief for workers and volunteers suffering from ill health as a result of their efforts in the aftermath of the terrorists attacks."

Noting that Plaintiff had testified that his duties at the checkpoint included stopping traffic and clearing routes for emergency and construction vehicles traveling to and from ground zero, the Appellate Division found that Plaintiff's "activities had a tangible connection to the rescue, recovery and cleanup operations at the WTC site."

The court then opined that "in light of the liberal construction afforded this remedial statute, "the Board's determination that Workers' Compensation Law Article 8-A does not apply because [Plaintiff] did not participate in the rescue, recovery and cleanup operations at ground zero is not supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, the claim should not have been disallowed as untimely under Workers' Compensation Law §28".

The Appellate Division then remitted the matter to the Workers' Compensation Board "for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision."

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's opinion. 

 

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