Widow of New York Firefighter Awarded Worker's Comp. Benefits After Being Denied

MONTICELLO, N.Y. -- About 50 firefighters and supporters snapped to attention and saluted Claudia Davidson, widow of firefighter George Davidson, as she walked into a hearing in Monticello before a Workers Compensation law judge. Firefighters draped a huge American flag from a ladder truck Tuesday, lining up in the parking lot.

George Davidson, a 38-year veteran of the Youngsville Fire Co. and former deputy fire coordinator, died on April 25, 2007, after suffering a heart attack a few hours after leading a training exercise. Claudia Davidson filed a claim with Workers Compensation, seeking a benefit available to volunteer firefighters who die in the line of duty.

Sullivan County, which is the insurer, has denied the claim, saying Claudia was late in filing and can offer no proof the heart attack was brought on by the training exercise.

Firefighters say this is typical of the county's treatment of them.

"We are here to protect the community and we would hope the community will support us when something like this happens," said Mark Murphy, a lieutenant with the Callicoon Fire Department. "The county isn't holding up their end."

Tuesday's hearing was closed. The Workers Compensation law judge can deny the claim or order the county to pay out the benefit, or schedule more hearings.

Claudia Davidson would be entitled to a one-time payment of $56,000 and $887 a week for life, and up to $6,700 in funeral expenses, her attorney Craig S. Fine said.

Claudia filed the claim roughly two years after he died. She was late in filing it because she pursued a federal benefit first and was not initially aware that she qualified, Fine said.

The feds have recognized Davidson's death as in the line of duty. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a partner with several federal agencies, determined that Davidson did die in the line of duty and she was entitled to a federal Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant. They recognized that stress and exertion caused the heart failure.

Carl Houman, an advocate for the Foundation and a professional Monticello firefighter, said he told Davidson that she also qualified for a death benefit under Workers Compensation and she filed at that time.

"As volunteers, they go out, they leave their families, their homes, to serve the county, but Sullivan County does nothing to serve the volunteers," Houman said.

Republished with permission of the Times Herald-Record.