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A New York appellate panel last week upheld an award of workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of a man whose suicide was attributed to employment-related stress. Potter v. Curtis Lumber Co. Inc., 94379, is the most recent in a series of pronouncements on that issue by the New York Appellate Division, 3rd Department. The ruling followed a line of cases in which the justices in Albany, N.Y., have established that suicide can constitute a work-related injury. In Aherin v. County of Onondaga, 307 AD2d 393 (2003), and Friedman v. NBC, 178 AD2d 774 (1991), the 3rd Department placed a burden on claimants to prove that mental deterioration culminating in suicide stemmed from more than normal stresses of a working environment. The case involved a man who apparently could not handle a promotion or the criticisms that resulted from run-ins with his supervisors. Six years after being promoted to marketing design manager at Curtis Lumber Co., the worker accepted a job as a truck driver. Shortly after that, he killed himself at home. A workers’ compensation law judge found that the decedent’s suicide resulted from a depressive illness, and that the depressive illness stemmed from stress at work. That determination was upheld by the Workers’ Compensation Board, resulting in an appeal by Curtis Lumber and its insurance carrier. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice John A. Lahtinen acknowledged that there were conflicting medical reports on the cause of the suicide. However, he said the Workers’ Compensation Board was entitled to adopt the conclusions of the claimant’s psychiatrist and to reject the medical testimony provided by the carrier’s medical expert. “We further reject the carrier’s claim that the Board failed to consider its defense � that decedent’s suicide had been the direct consequence of several lawful personnel decisions undertaken by Curtis Lumber, including his reassignment to truck-driving duties,” Justice Lahtinen wrote. “It is evident that the Board, in considering the evidence that decedent began exhibiting a pattern of mental deterioration long before these decisions were made, implicitly entertained and rejected this defense.” Lahtinen was joined in the opinion by Justices Thomas E. Mercure, D. Bruce Crew III, Edward O. Spain and Anthony T. Kane. J. Kevin Daly of Erwin, McCane & Daly in Albany appeared for the claimant. Matthew R. Mead of Stockton, Barker & Mead in Albany represented Curtis Lumber Co. Assistant Attorney General Iris A. Steel argued for the Workers’ Compensation Board.

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