Depression is a disease that affects many Americans. In recent years as the unemployment rate has skyrocketed, depression has increased as well. Workers who find themselves in vastly different life circumstances than they had planned for, are likely to begin to suffer from depression even if they never have experienced problems in the past. A person who is injured while on the job and finds themselves disabled is more likely than any other unemployed person to suffer from depression related illnesses. A disabled Nassau worker has gone virtually overnight from being a strong active employed person to being bedridden for several days or weeks and unemployed. The new wording to the Family Medical Leave Act states that if a person is catastrophically injured on the job, their company is only required to keep their job open for them for twelve weeks. At the end of the twelve week period, that injured employee may be fired and a new person hired to fill their job. The days of companies and even government entities standing behind an employee who has been injured on the job are over.
That was the situation that one New York highway department worker found himself in when he was struck by a car while at work. He sustained serious personal injury from this accident in December of 1995. His spinal injury left him disabled and unable to return to work. He began to suffer from depression and in January of 1998, his wife found him dead by his own hand. She filed a request for workers compensation death benefits. Her contention was that her husband committed suicide because of his depression which was directly related to the accident at work. A Workers’ Compensation Law Judge agreed that the wife should be granted death benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board determined that she should not be awarded death benefits because they found that there was no causal relationship associated to the accident and the husband’s suicide. The wife filed an appeal of their decision.
She based her appeal on the fact that death benefits are deemed appropriate if the work injury results in insanity, brain injury, brain deterioration or a pattern of mental deterioration which may culminate in suicide. She also contends that there was no lawyer on the board to evaluate the application of law in this case. According to the Laws of New York State, in order for this woman to be awarded compensation, she must show that there was a causal link between the accident and her husband’s suicide. In order to demonstrate a causal link, she must present competent medical proof that her husband suffered from a mental deterioration brought on by the accident that ended in him taking his own life. The board is required to give more credence to an opinion based on medical evidence, than they are their own opinions that are not based on medical knowledge.
In this case, the wife presented only one medical expert to prove her case. The doctor that she presented was a board certified psychiatrist; however, he had never actually treated her husband before his death. The Suffolk doctor based his opinion only on the written medical records and correspondence with the man’s wife. The court did not feel that this was a sufficient medical opinion in light of the fact that the doctor had never even met the injured man. The medical records that were produced from doctors who did actually treat and know the man before his death showed no mention that the man was suffering from depression or any other type of mental illness. Based on this information the court agrees with the Workers’ Compensation Board that there is not enough evidence present to grant her a death benefits claim.