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The fact that the employment was illegal is not a circumstance which removes the employer or the employee from the scope of the compensation law. Instead, the sanction against illegal employment provided by the legislature is the imposition of an award twice the amount ordinarily payable. N.Y. Workmens' Comp. Law § 14-a.
The employee, a child, was injured when he was hit by a vehicle while delivering newspapers. The employee was working illegally in violation of educational statutes. A workmen’s' compensation claim was filed, but the employee's attorney returned the check and instead sought relief in the civil courts. The lower court dismissed the suit upon the ground that there was insufficient proof to establish a causal relationship between his illegal employment and the accident. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment, without opinion. The employee challenged the decision.
Did the lower courts err in dismissing the employee’s claim?
On appeal, the court agreed that the claim should have been dismissed but disagreed with the lower courts' reasoning. The claim was barred since workers' compensation was the avenue for relief. The fact that the employment was illegal did not remove the claim from workmens' compensation. Underage newspaper deliverers were included in coverage pursuant to N.Y. Workmens' Comp. Law § 2(4), (5). Whether the employer did not carry proper insurance, thus excluding the claim from workmens' compensation, was not raised in the complaint. Regardless, the fact that the employer offered a check was evidence that it had insurance. The employee was not prejudiced since a decision by a civil court that a claim was or was not in the scope of employment would not have bound the Workmens' Compensation Board. The court chastised the parties for not providing a proper record and denied costs.