WTC Benefits Awarded to Absentee Father

April 21, 2004

A man is entitled to half his son’s World Trade Center-related death benefits, even though the father abandoned him as an infant, a state appeals court decided recently.

The workers’ compensation death benefit of $50,000 due Daniel Hal Crisman should be split between his mother, Deborah Ann Crisman, and his biological father, Richard Shelp, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court said in a 5-0 ruling.

Though abandoning his son, the court noted that Shelp never terminated his parental rights. The state’s workers’ comp law says only that death benefits should be paid to “surviving parents” of victims of fatal on-the-job injuries if, as in Daniel Crisman’s case, victims die without spouses or children.

Deborah Crisman and Shelp had initially sought to split the $50,000 award, but Crisman later sought to exclude Shelp from receiving anything, citing his abandonment of his son, according to court papers.

The court said it was “not unsympathetic” to Crisman’s argument. But it said the workers’ comp statute is clear in such cases. If the state doesn’t want biological parents who turn out to be bad mothers or fathers from collecting benefits, it’s up to the “legislature, and not this court, to remedy the perceived inconsistency,” Justice Bruce Crew III wrote.

Daniel Crisman was one of 295 Marsh & McLennan employees killed in the attack.

State Senator Guy Velella (R) has filed a bill in that would prohibit parents who abandon children from later collecting their workers’ comp death benefits.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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