On September 11, 2001 the United States suffered a terrible loss of human life at the hands of those who sought to destroy the symbols of the American way of life. They were not successful. In the aftermath, the citizenry of the great State of New York pulled together. We were proud to witness countless acts of selflessness and boundless acts of heroism.
We can never repay those workers for the sacrifices that they have endured during the rescue, recovery and clean up efforts at ground zero. This state must ensure that these workers are taken care of should injury or occupational disease befall them.
The Business Council of New York State, Inc. believes that these workers should receive workers' compensation benefits for injuries and illnesses associated with their work activities and that these benefits be provided in a just and expeditious manner. Thankfully, the state of New York already has a system in place which meets this criterion. A.8149/S.4571 seeks to change this system in a way that goes beyond the intent and structure of existing law. As such, The Business Council cannot support this legislation.
The proposed legislation changes the entire standard and criteria by which we view occupational diseases. It seeks to change the structure of occupational diseases from those that result from the caused nature of the employment to a specific geographic location. It completely undermines one of the primary foundations upon which workers' compensation law is based. This sets a very damaging precedent for the future.
This legislation would expand the definition of occupational diseases to include matters that were never intended to be covered by workers' compensation law and flies in the face of established statutory and case law. For instance, it would allow workers who contract bronchitis or develop cataracts even decades later to attach it to ground zero as opposed to the inherent nature of employment as the law now requires.
New York State defines an occupation disease in section 2(15) of the workers' compensation law as "a disease resulting from the nature of employment and contracted therein."
In Paider v. Park East Movers, the Courts determined that “an occupational disease is an ailment which is the result of a distinctive feature of the kind of work performed by claimant and others similarly employed , and it is not an ailment caused by the peculiar place in which the particular claimant happens to work...” . Further, in Briggs v. Hope's Window, Inc., the Court stated that “...whether disease is peculiar to or characteristic of the work so as to be a compensable occupational disease, “peculiar to” and “characteristic of” relate to work performed by employee if it is under conditions to which all employees of class are subject and which produce disease as natural incident of a particular occupation.”
The current statute is clearly defined. Workers' compensation law section 3(2) lists a total of 30 different occupational diseases. The first 29 paragraphs describe different occupational diseases and the process by which they might be contracted. Paragraph 30 of this section defines diseases, in very broad terms, as "any and all occupation diseases" and uses the term "any and all employments" to describe the process by which coverage would be provided.
The Business Council believes that based on the list of 30 occupational diseases and processes and the decades worth of case law, employees participating in the rescue, recovery and cleanup operations at ground zero are already covered under the provisions of the statute as it presently exists.
For all of the reason mentioned above, The Business Council opposes this bill.