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No Benefits For Worker's Suicide

State: NY

No Benefits for Police Department Forensic Worker's Suicide:

The widow of a forensic scientist for the New York police department who committed suicide after

the department launched an internal investigation of his inconsistent performance of fiber proficiency
tests is not entitled to death benefits.

Case: In the Matter of the Claim of Veeder v. New York State Police Department et al., No. 515265,
01/31/2013, published.

Facts: Gary Veeder became depressed and committed suicide shortly after his employer of 31 years,
the New York State Police Department, began investigating inconsistencies in fiber proficiency tests
he had performed.

Local newspapers from 2008 indicate that the department warned prosecutors about the potential
unreliability of any evidence handled by Veeder.

Veeder had done some of the forensic testing on evidence which led to the conviction of Katherine
Seeber, who plead guilty in 2001 to helping strangle her 91-year-old step-great-grandmother. A
Saratoga County judge vacated Seeber's conviction, concluding that the misrepresentation of the
fiber evidence in the case had induced Seeber's plea. Seeber later plead guilty to a lesser charge of
manslaughter.

Procedural History: Veeder's widow sought death benefits from the department, but a Workers'
Compensation Law judge disallowed the claim.

The Workers' Compensation Board affirmed the judge's action, concluding the widow's claim was
barred by Workers' Compensation Law Section 2(7).

The statute provides that benefits will not be awarded for a mental injury from work-related stress
that is a direct consequence of an employer's good faith personnel decision involving discipline,
evaluation, transfer or termination.

Veeder's widow sought judicial review, arguing that Veeder's injury was not 'solely mental' since he
had committed suicide.

The Appellate Division's 3rd Department did not accept that argument, but it concluded that there
was not enough evidence to support the board's conclusion that the police department's investigatory
actions were undertaken in the context of a 'disciplinary action' for purposes of Section 2(7).

The panel remanded the case to the board for a ruling on this issue.

On remand, the board determined that the department's investigation of Veeder came within the
ambit of Section 2(7) and the board also found that Veeder was only exposed to normal workplace
levels of stress.

Analysis: The Appellate Division's 3rd Department noted that a psychiatrist had causally linked
Veeder's suicide to workplace stress, but that the psychiatrist had no firsthand knowledge of the
investigation and did not opine that it caused abnormal levels of stress.

'Indeed, numerous individuals involved in investigating the testing irregularities testified that they
followed standard procedure in doing so, and that their interactions with decedent were uniformly
collegial and cordial," the court said. "The board was free to credit that testimony and determine that the stress created by the investigation was not 'greater than that which other similarly situated
workers experienced in the normal work environment' as required and, thus, reject claimant's
application."

Disposition: Affirmed.

To read the decision, click here.