Dutchess County law firm Feldman, Kleidman, Collins & Sappe LLP (FKC&S) recently teamed with Workers’ Compensation Attorney Peter M. Cordovano, P.C. to obtain life insurance and workers' compensation settlements for the family of a volunteer ambulance driver from Orange County, NY, who died after battling COVID-19 for more than one month in the spring of 2020. FKC&S, which is largely focused in the areas of medical malpractice and personal injury law, was referred the case by another law firm and agreed to provide counsel to the defendants’ family free of charge.

Orange County First Responder Dies of COVID-19, Family Denied Life Insurance

The deceased contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 while volunteering for a local ambulance squad. When he was not working, his wife says he stayed home and isolated from others, including her and their child, for their safety. Following his death, his life insurance company denied his wife’s claim, stating a lack of evidence as to whether he contracted COVID-19 while volunteering in the ambulance or anywhere else. According to Feldman, this happens often in cases related to first responders, including police officers, firefighters, corrections officers, nurses and other health care providers.

Jeffrey M. Feldman, founding partner of FKC&S said,

After we learned of the hardships this family had gone through, our team committed to doing everything we could to help. The deceased fell ill after sacrificing his safety to help others during a time of great need, and we are grateful for heroes like him who lay it all on the line to serve our community...

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In the early days of the pandemic, little was understood about the disease and its treatment and testing was not as accurate as the testing later became. From an evidentiary point of view, proving how he was exposed on the rig was difficult because each patient he transported could have had COVID-19 unknowingly, or medical personnel at the hospitals could have exposed him in passing. We had to think outside of the box and that’s why Peter’s [Cordovano] involvement and hard work was integral to achieving successful results for this family.

Establishing a COVID-19 Timeline

After taking the case, FKC&S was able to gather pertinent medical records and conducted interviews with those who rode in the ambulance with the deceased. FKC&S was able to establish a timeline of how his shifts coincided with the progression of his symptoms. This timeline also included his medical appointments, testing and hospitalization.

Before FKC&S filed a lawsuit against the life insurance company, Cordovano filed a workers’ compensation claim. The deceased’s wife testified at the subsequent hearing, indicating that the sole reason her husband left the house was to work on the ambulance. The workers’ compensation insurance carrier cross-examined her and could not prove that he was exposed to COVID-19 elsewhere. Ultimately, the New York State Workers' Compensation Board found that the deceased contracted COVID-19 due to his work as a volunteer first responder and awarded his widow the benefits to which she was entitled.

Applying their expert knowledge of the doctrine of collateral estoppel, FKC&S’s attorneys understood that this workers’ compensation decision could be binding in a lawsuit against the life insurance company. Collateral estoppel means that a finding by one court or administrative agency may, under certain circumstances, be binding on others who were not party to the initial hearing or proceeding. FKC&S filed the suit and C evidencing medical records, testimony and the ruling from the Workers’ Compensation hearing C argued that the workers’ compensation decision was, in fact, binding. In the end, the life insurance company paid the proceeds of the life insurance policy to the family of the deceased and Feldman delivered the check to them last month.

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