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'Civil Union' partner eligible for Death Benefits?

Death benefits are payable to the ‘spouse and minor children’ and other beneficiaries ‘allowed by law’ on behalf of a worked killed at his employment. What about members of a civil union? In a recent decision, the WCB denied death benefits to the surviving “member” of a civil union ceremony which had taken place in Vermont. A divided appellate Panel agreed, and ruled that the ‘surviving meber’ of the civil union ceremony was not entitled to benefits.

The decision of the WCB strictly construed that workers’ comp law – the ‘surviing spouse’ langauge. According to the facts of the case, John Langdon and his partner, Neal Spicehandler participated ina ‘civl union ceremony’ in Vermont in 2000. According to the Vermont ‘specil statute’ authorizing the ceremony, the participants in the ‘union ceremony’ are not legal “spouses.” Fo that reason, the New York court refused to grant death benefits to Spicehandler.

This is a significant departure from New Jersey law, which specifically includes members of a ‘domestic partnership’ recognized under New Jersey law (since 2007) – and provides the same benefits to parties in a civil union as to married spouses.

Case: Langan v. State Farm Fire & Cas., 2007 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13242 (N.Y. App. Div. Dec. 27, 2007).

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