Cancer caused by exposure to diesel fumes? New York attorneys explain your rights
Families seeking death benefits in New York due to a work-related death of a loved one as a result of cancer caused by diesel exhaust exposure now have an additional year to file a workers’ compensation death benefits claim retroactively, thanks to new legislation recently signed into law by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
"I am very proud of this legislation which will allow grieving families to be able to seek financial justice for the loss of their loved one," New York State Sen. James Sanders Jr. said recently in response to the new legislation, according to a statement released by Sen. Sanders’ office.
What is New York’s new diesel exhaust exposure law?
Known as “The Nigro Bill,” S.661/SANDERS and A.6424/Bichotte Hermelyn was sponsored by New York State Sen. Sanders and New York State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
The law is named in honor of Anthony Nigro, who died on Jan. 5, 2012, at the age of 57 due to lung cancer. Nigro worked for more than 28 years as a bus mechanic in Manhattan at the Michael J. Quill Bus Depot operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
Nigro’s family proved in state Workers’ Compensation court that his death was due to occupational diesel exhaust exposure. Initially, the Nigro family’s death claim for benefits in New York was denied because the statute of limitations had expired before scientific proof existed that diesel exhaust is a Class 1 carcinogen. The Nigro family’s legal case against the MTA helped prove that diesel exhaust fumes are an environmental toxin.
What types of cancer are linked to diesel exhaust exposure?
Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer due to prolonged diesel exhaust exposure. Nigro, for example, was diagnosed with Stage IV inoperable lung cancer due to occupational exposure to diesel exhaust fumes.
The link between exposure to diesel exhaust fumes and lung cancer has been well established for certain professions, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). In particular, certain professions “have been found to have higher lung cancer death rates than unexposed workers,” according to the ACS.
Such professions include:
- Car mechanics
- Heavy equipment operators
- Railroad and other transportation workers
According to the ACS, additional scientific studies have also found possible links between diesel exhaust exposure and other types of cancer, such as:
- Bladder cancer
- Larynx (voice box) cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Lymphoma (lymphatic cancer of the lymph nodes)
- Leukemia (blood cancer)
What death benefits are available to families?
If a loved one dies due to a work-related injury or illness in New York, surviving family members may be eligible to receive certain death benefits, according to New York Workers' Compensation Law Section 16 - Death benefits (NY WCL §16). Sometimes referred to as survivor benefits, such benefits include:
- Money for funeral expenses (up to $12,500).
- Two-thirds of the deceased person’s salary for the surviving spouse.
- Additional compensation if the surviving spouse has children.
- A lump-sum payment of $50,000 to the survivor’s parents or estate if there is no surviving spouse, children, or dependents.
The formula for determining who’s eligible for New York death benefits and how much families can receive can be confusing. News reports about Nigro’s surviving family members noted they could be eligible to receive more than $1 million in workers’ compensation death claim benefits. This is why it’s critical that family members consult with an experienced New York workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about their rights and how to file a death claim.
What is the statute of limitations for death benefit claims?
Under New York State law, surviving family members generally have two years to file a death claim for workers’ compensation survivor benefits, according to New York Workers' Compensation Law, Chapter 67, Article 2, Section 16 (Death Benefits).
The Nigro family’s legal action against the MTA prompted New York lawmakers to extend the statute of limitations for one year from the effective date of the bill. This one-year, one-time extension signed into law on October 29, 2021, can be found in New York Workers' Compensation Law, Chapter 67, Article 2, Section 16A (Death Benefits Due To Diesel Exposure).
In short, the new bill allows a tolling of the two-year statute of limitations from the date of the victim's original death. That means even if your loved one died 20 years ago from cancer caused by occupational diesel exhaust exposure, you may still be able to pursue a claim for death benefits within the next year. The key is to talk to an attorney as soon as possible to get a clear understanding of your legal rights and options.
How can a workers’ comp lawyer help?
Claims for death benefits due to occupational exposure to diesel exhaust can be complicated. Without the right experience and guidance to navigate New York's workers' comp system, you might not receive the financial compensation you rightfully deserve, even if a loved one died as a result of cancer caused by workplace exposure to diesel fumes. Other legal options may be available to your family as well, including filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
The attorneys at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP know how to handle complex legal cases and can explore all the legal options available to you. Since the 1930s, our law firm has been standing up for the rights of injured workers in NYC and throughout the State of New York. As a result, we know what it takes to win.
Don’t miss out on your opportunity for justice. Contact our law firm and schedule an appointment with an experienced New York workers’ compensation lawyer. We have 12 offices conveniently located throughout New York, including five offices in New York City.