In 1960, a Nassau man was found dead by his own hand. He left behind a suicide note that stated that he could not stand the pain of his injuries any longer. This man had suffered from a back injury on his job that left him in constant pain and unable to function as he had before he was injured. His wife filed a wrongful death suit against the Workmen’s Compensation Board. Her contention is that her husband suffered from two debilitating industrial accidents. One of the work related accidents that he suffered occurred in 1945. He was working for a theatre as an usher when he attempted to break up a fight in the men’s room. His head was slammed against the marble wall of the men’s room and he suffered from a brain injuryas a result. Following this injury, the man was plagued by headaches, blackouts, and incidents of blindness. His wife stated that he would have moments of blindness that would last a few seconds at least once or twice each day. These incidents were followed by excruciating headaches. She stated that following the second injury, it was too much for him to handle. She proposes that there was a direct causal link between her husband’s industrial accidents and his suicide.
New York law states that where the symptoms of an injury that occurs on the job continue until the suicide of that person, a direct causal relationship may be inferred. That means that death benefits are awarded if the injury results naturally in disease and the disease is the cause of death. The courts have ruled that if the injury causes insanity and the insanity cause the suicide, it is the proximate cause of the death. However, if the insanity is not a result of the injury, but rather from some other cause such as melancholy or discouragement, then the injury is not considered to be the proximate cause of death.
The Worker’s Compensation Board contends that the brain injury was not the proximate cause of the decedent committing suicide. They contend that the decedent had a long history of mental illness dating back to early childhood. They produced evidence that he had committed himself to a mental institution before his first injury. His complaint at that time was severe anxiety and headaches accompanied with bouts of blindness. They stated that following this incident and only one year before his death, he checked himself into the hospital for renal colic and was in treatment for one month. They brought forth evidence of the decedent’s many medical issues and even ventured into his relationship with his mother. His mother was crippled at an early age. She was raped and the result of the rape was the decedent. He grew up in foster care. The Worker’s Compensation Board contends that the decedent had numerous health and psychiatric problems his entire life and that it was these problems and not his back injury that caused him to take his own life.