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Wife of Cornell Painter Nets Award in Suicide Worker Comp Claim

The wife of former Cornell painter James Smith scored an award for workers’ compensation after a New York State appellate court upheld the previous ruling by the New York State Workers Compensation Board’s and rejected Cornell’s appeal.

Smith incurred work-related injuries in 2001. He injured his lower back, with subsequent injuries to other areas of his body like the neck and shoulders. He experienced frequent headaches and constant pain.  The court agreed with an independent medical examiner who testified that Smith’s disability and chronic pain lead to severe depression that ended in Smith committing suicide in 2007. The court found a sufficient casual relationship between Smith’s suicide and the work injuries. Cornell contested the decision, saying that other factors were contributed to the suicide.

Originally, the NY Workers Compensation Board said that a work-related accident ‘need only be a contributing cause of a resulting mental injury’ to merit compensation. Brenda Smith’s lawyers said Cornell’s insurance company will be responsible for medical care and lost wages under the workers’ compensation law. This allows for Smith’s wife to receive a weekly payment of two-thirds of an average weekly wages. Cornell is not expected to appeal the workers compensation case.

Tompkins County Workers’ Center employee Linda Holzbaur called the workers’ compensation system in New York ‘one of the worst’ and stated ‘Reading between the lines, I think that it’s probably the insurance company that made Cornell appeal this decision. Employers in New York State pay one of the highest rates of workers’ compensation in the country, yet the workers receive one of the lowest.”