Justices Decline to Hear Death Benefits Case

January 22, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Supreme Court justices declined to review a case involving the amount of death benefits due the family of a Massachusetts police officer who shot himself in 1992, the Associated Press said.

Court observers say the justices could have further defined the benefits due survivors because of their relative’s mental condition rather than the traditional array of physical wounds like those from a gun.

Victim Fund Pursuit

Even though the dead officer’s family was awarded pension benefits from Wellesley, the family was blocked when they tried to get money from a special federal victim’s fund, the AP said. The fund was set up in 1976 under which survivors can get a one-time $100,000 payment.

The case stems from 1992 when William Yanco committed suicide after being falsely accused of kissing a boy he counseled as part of his job as a youth safety officer in the wealthy Boston suburb of Wellesley.

Three investigations cleared the 21-year police veteran of any wrongdoing, but he said in a note left behind to one of his two young sons that, “No matter what I say, people will always be suspicious.’

Federal Law Restricted

On the federal level, the law did not specify what types of death could result in payments, so the Justice Department spelled out such things as injuries from bullets, explosives, sharp instruments, blunt objects, chemicals, radiation, bacteria, and climatic conditions.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed with the Justice Department’s interpretation of the law last year.

The case is Yanco v. United States, 01-674.