N.Y. Court Upholds Denial of Sept. 11 WC Claim

June 21, 2004

A financial analyst who worked near the World Trade Center is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for post traumatic stress disorder because he voluntarily lingered near ground zero to watch the chaos on Sept. 11, 2001, a New York state appeals court has ruled.

Joseph Betro made a “safe and uneventful evacuation” out of a Salomon Smith Barney office building on West Street four or five blocks away from the World Trade Center towers on the morning of the catastrophic terrorist attack, and was free to catch a commuter ferry to New Jersey, where he lived, the court noted.

Instead, Betro walked about 50 feet to a street with a view of the doomed trade center towers, and stood watching the destruction for as many as 30 minutes before he headed north toward midtown Manhattan on foot, according to court papers.

Betro said he was eligible for workers’ comp coverage because the order from Salomon Smith Barney executives to evacuate his building exposed him to the risk of physical injury, as well as causing him to witness harrowing scenes around the trade center site. Salomon Smith Barney should have had arrangements in place to get workers out of Manhattan entirely if they had to vacate the building in an emergency, Betro argued.

He said he could not function in his job he had held for more than 20 years because of the trauma he suffered on Sept. 11. Betro’s lawyer Mark Lewis Schulman said the East Stroudsburg, Pa., resident has been on disability and has not worked since Sept. 11 and that his psychiatrist said he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

A hearing officer agreed that Betro should get the $400-a-week workers’ comp benefit, but the state Workers’ Compensation Board reversed that ruling. It decided there was not a sufficient connection between Betro’s job and his experiences in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 to make his emotional injuries work-related under the meaning of the state’s workers’ compensation law.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court panel agreed, 5-0, that by moving closer to ground zero and voluntarily watching the towers’ destruction, Betro’s emotional injuries “could not be said to have arisen out of, and in the course of, his employment.”

Schulman said Betro’s claim was one of the first to be filed related to the events of Sept. 11. Later rulings by Workers’ Compensation Boards have recognized injuries by people who were much further away from ground zero than Betro, including the case of one woman who was 22 blocks away when the attack occurred, Schulman said.

“When he walked out of the (Salomon Smith Barney) building, when there was commotion to the right and none to the left, he wanted to see what was going on,” Schulman said. “They seem to indicate that because he took a 50-foot diversion to see what was going on on a day that seemed like the end of the world, that his injuries were not compensative.”

Betro will seek an appeal, Schulman said.

There was no immediate comment from Salomon Smith Barney, now known as Citigroup Global Capital Markets.

Jon Sullivan, a spokesman for the Workers’ Compensation Board, said 10,160 workers’ claims have been filed on behalf of those killed or injured as the result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in Manhattan. The vast majority have been resolved, he said.

“The board has demonstrated its commitment to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack by efficiently resolving 90 percent of all World Trade Center claims,” Sullivan said. “We remain committed to providing fair and legally sound decisions. Today’s ruling by the appellate division validates that the board did, in fact, make the appropriate decision.”

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

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