Safety and OSHA News

No one saw fall that eventually killed worker: Can his widow get workers’ comp?

An employee fell off a ladder and died of complications several days later. No one saw the fall, and the employee didn’t report it. Can his widow receive workers’ comp benefits? 

Frank Silvestri was a maintenance worker for the New York City Transit Authority. His duties included repairing subway cars.

On April 24, 2014, he worked a full 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. According to his widow, that afternoon she found him in bed around 3 p.m. when she returned home from work. She said her husband said he’d fallen off a ladder into a pit at work and that he was having trouble walking and breathing.

Silvestri went to the hospital the following morning, was diagnosed with fractured ribs, given painkillers and sent home.

When he didn’t get better, Silvestri went back to the hospital three days later where he was also diagnosed with a ruptured spleen and punctured lung and admitted. He died the following day of “complications of blunt impact injuries to the trunk with bronchopneumonia and hemoperitoneum.”

Silvestri’s widow applied for workers’ comp for medical bills and death benefits.

A workers’ compensation law judge awarded the benefits, and the decision was upheld by the Workers’ Compensation Board. The employer appealed.

The transit agency argued there was a lack of substantial evidence that Silvestri’s injuries and resulting death were due to an incident that occurred at work.

His supervisor testified that on the day after he was injured, Silvestri left work holding his stomach, saying that he wasn’t feeling well.

The appeals court found his widow’s testimony, along with that of the supervisor who witnessed Silvestri holding his stomach, was enough to support the Board’s finding that Silvestri’s widow should receive workers’ comp medical and death benefits.

A note: Always encourage your employees to report if they’ve been injured at work, including that they won’t be punished for doing so. Not only did Silvestri not report his injury. His widow said that at his funeral, she was told by his colleagues that a co-worker had picked Silvestri up out of the pit, and in fact had witnessed his injury, but didn’t want to come forward with information for fear of losing his job.

We’ll never know if reporting his injury and seeking medical help immediately could have saved Silvestri’s life.

(Silvestri v. New York City Transit Authority, NY Appellate Division, Third Department, No. 06123m 8/10/17)

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