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Court Rules on Wrongful Death Claim

The deceased woman was seriously injured in an accident. She died from such accident injuries and was survived by her husband and twelve children, seven of whom were infants at the time of her death.

From 1966 to 1972, the Department of Social Services furnished AFDC (Assistance for Families with Dependent Children) to the deceased and her infant children in the sum of approximately $36,000. Since all assistance and care of whatever nature was furnished before the injury then no lien may be attached to any personal injury recovery.

The administrator of the deceased woman’s estate commenced a combined action for personal injuries and wrongful death. The combined action has been settled for $100,000. The Court allocated $12,500 to the personal injury cause payable to the estate for the 4 3/4ths days the woman survived.

The Department recognizes that in the absence of an assignment from the beneficiaries, there is no right to recover from the proceeds of the wrongful death cause. Recovery is sought by the Department solely from the estate.

The deceased woman’s estate is the estate of a Recipient. As an estate of a recipient, the estate is responsible for all AFDC allocated to such recipient as the head of the family under the Social Services Law. A recipient’s estate is not responsible for Medical Assistance paid to such recipient unless the recipient was over 65 and left no surviving spouse or children under 21 under the Social Services Law.

According to a New York Injury Lawyer, the deceased woman’s estate is also the estate of an RR (Responsible Relative). The estate of a deceased adult Responsible Relative is responsible for all AFDC payments allocated to the Responsible Relative’s infant children under the Social Services Law. A Living Responsible Relative would not be responsible unless of sufficient ability during the period of assistance. The estate of a Responsible Relative is probably not responsible for MA furnished to infant children although a living parent would, if of sufficient ability, be responsible. It is determined in any event that the deceased was not of sufficient ability during the period of assistance.

It is obvious from the above that the Department’s right to recover for AFDC payments to the deceased and her infant children will far exceed the net estate after administration expenses. The distribution of the proceeds of both the personal injury cause and the wrongful death cause is made by separate decision.

The recurring problem of the right of Social Service Departments to recover for public assistance and care given to needy recipients has been troubling our courts since 1935 and with increasing frequency of late. In our Supreme Court, such issues arise mainly with respect to claims by a Department against personal injury recoveries. A Brooklyn Personal Injury Lawyer said that the Surrogate’s Courts are concerned with claims by a Department against estates and as well against beneficiaries of the estates.

Although there have been hundreds of reported decisions, for reasons which are obvious, none has attempted to articulate at any length the basis for such decision.

In the absence of a recovery ruling authorizing a Department to recover assistance and care correctly paid, there is no obligation to repay the Department. New York has enacted such recovery statutes. Although enacted separately, these recovery statutes are interrelated and dependent upon one another.

A recovery ruling is one which authorizes a Department to recover the cost of assistance and care from a recipient or the estate of such recipient, and from a responsible relative of such recipient or from the estate of such responsible relative.

Almost all assistance and care to the needy of the state is today given under one or another of the categorical programs mainly Assistance for Families with Dependent Children and Medical Assistance under the Social Security Act. A Bronx Personal Injury Lawyer said that as a condition of federal assistance, some of these programs limit the resources, both in terms of the recipient’s property and contribution from his responsible relatives, to which the State may look in determining eligibility. As a consequence, New York has been compelled to amend its recovery rulings or enact new recovery rulings. Pre-amendment decisions in many cases are no longer relevant.

Since Departments often contend before the courts that denial of recovery imperils federal assistance, it should be observed that the Social Security Act does not require as a condition of assistance that States enact recovery orders. In fact many States have none. True, Congress has given implied recognition to recovery orders by requiring States which do recover to share the recovered proceeds. But the federal law is directed toward incorrectly not correctly paid assistance.

Under the recovery laws, recovery may often be had against the mother for assistance allocated to her but not to the children. The Departments are required to maintain separate allocations and are most cooperative in furnishing such records to the courts.

With these general observations, recovery law is the basic law which in the first instance determines liability and around which the other laws revolve.

It became a statewide law when the State took over from the municipality’s responsibility for public assistance.

As originally enacted in 1929, a spouse was responsible for the other spouse; grandparents and parents were responsible for their adult and infant grandchildren and adult and infant children and grandchildren were responsible for their parents and grandparents.

The first major change in the decree was made in 1936 and the amendment exempted infant children or grandchildren from all responsibility for their parents or grandparents. Although no decision has considered the question, the 1936 amendment also exempted infant spouses and infant parents from all responsibility for assistance and care given to their spouses or infant children, while such Responsible Relative spouse or parent was an infant.

The next and last major amendment was made in 1966. The 1966 amendment exempted adult children from responsibility for their parents and exempted parents from all responsibility for their adult children. Parents, however, remained responsible for their infant children and adult children remained responsible for their spouses and infant children.

It is observed that the 1966 amendment was commanded on the States by the Social Security Act but only with respect to the MA categorical program. New York State, in amending the law, made the new provisions applicable to all assistance whether federally or solely locally supported.

In addition to defining who are Responsible Relatives also limited the conditions under which a Responsible Relative could be found liable. The law specifically provides that one is a Responsible Relative only if of sufficient ability.

This provision, as discussed has been held to mean of sufficient ability during the period when assistance was being provided to the recipient relative.

The law further limits the liability of a Responsible Relative. Subject to such further limitations, under the definitions of present section of the law, only an adult spouse for assistance and care to his spouse or an adult parent and step-parent only for assistance and care to his infant children or stepchildren can be held responsible as a Responsible Relative.

But such Responsible Relatives can only be held responsible if they were of sufficient ability during the period when assistance was being given to their recipient relative.

And, in conclusion, an infant can never be held responsible as a Responsible Relative.

As first enacted in 1901 it applied only to the liability of the recipient. It was modified in 1929 to apply to recipients, to the estates of recipients, to the Responsible Relatives and to the estates of the Responsible Relatives.

A public welfare official may bring action or proceeding against a person discovered to have real or personal property, or against the estate of a person who dies leaving real or personal property, if such person or anyone for whose support he is or was liable, received assistance and care during the preceding ten years, and shall be entitled to recover up to the value of such property the cost of such assistance or care. Any public assistance or care received by such person shall constitute an implied contract.

As observed, the law gives to a Department the right to recover against the recipient himself; against the Responsible Relative of the recipient; against the estate of a recipient, and against the estate of the Responsible Relative.

The law distinguishes between actions brought to recover from the Living recipient or his living Responsible Relative and actions or claims against the Estates of deceased recipients or Responsible Relatives.

With respect to actions against living recipients and Responsible Relatives, from its inception in 1929, the law has permitted recovery from such persons discovered to have real or personal property. Whatever may have been the original purpose of employing such odd but broad statutory language, the decisions establish that the law has never been used by the Departments to recover from wages or salaries of living recipients or Responsible Relatives or from property acquired from such earnings. Today this is an established policy. The policy is understandable since the expressed purpose of public assistance is to assist the recipient to attain and retain self-supporting status.

Instead, as the decisions establish, the thrust of proceedings by the Departments against Living recipients and Responsible Relatives has been to recover from windfalls to them resulting from personal injury recoveries or inheritances as beneficiaries from another’s estate.

In fighting for your loved one’s rights in an accident brought about by the negligence of other people, call Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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