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Seven Minutes Too Late for Widow to Get Benefits

(CN) - Because fax-machine errors led a woman to submit her husband's application for retirement benefits seven minutes after he died, she is not entitled to relief, a New York appeals court ruled.

Richard O'Brien, a state trooper, died on Dec. 7, 2009, from injuries that he suffered in a non work-related accident. His wife, Stephanie Cannon O'Brien, and his co-workers tried to apply for disability retirement benefits on that same day.

Several attempts at faxing the application failed, and O'Brien ultimately died seven minutes before the New York State and Local Retirement System finally received it.

The retirement system denied the application as untimely, and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli affirmed the decision.

O'Brien's wife appealed, but the Albany-based Third Department New York Appellate Division ruled, 2-1, on April 3 that she could not collect her husband's benefits.

Membership in the retirement system ceases upon death, and, with the exception of certified mail, filing only occurs when the application is actually received by the retirement system, the court found.

"While it is unfortunate that so many failed attempts were made to fax the retirement documents while decedent was still alive, there is no dispute that he died - and his membership in the retirement system therefore terminated - prior to their receipt," Presiding Justice Karen Peters wrote for the majority.

DiNapoli's decision was not arbitrary and capricious because he lacked the authority to grant an extension of time, Peters added.

Justice John Egan Jr. dissented from his colleagues.

"Notably, both the relevant statute and the subject regulation provide that the document in question is deemed to be filed on the date that it is faxed or mailed - not the precise moment in time that it is successfully received by the postal service or via fax machine," Egan wrote.

O'Brien was still alive while his colleague were faxing in his paperwork, he added.

"Decedent died on Dec. 7, 2009, and his application for retirement was received on Dec. 7, 2009," the dissent states. "Therefore, to my analysis, his application was timely filed."

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