Estate May Obtain Accrued But Unpaid Compensation
State, ex rel. Liposchak v. Indus. Comm. (11/15/00), 90 Ohio St.3d 276.
Issue: Can an injured worker’s estate receive accrued, but unpaid, workers’ compensation benefits if the injured worker has no dependents?
Background: Robert Liposchak died due to an occupational disease. When he died accrued, but unpaid, workers’ compensation benefits were owed to him.
His mother filed a death claim under R.C. 4123.59 which provides for payment of funeral expenses and also provides death benefits to dependents of employees who die due to an occupational disease or injury. Robert’s mother and his estate also filed for benefits under R.C. 4123.60 which permits payment of accrued but unpaid compensation to dependents. His mother sought the accrued but unpaid benefits as a dependent; his estate sought the accrued but unpaid benefits if the Commission found no dependents.
The Commission ordered payment of funeral benefits, but found that Robert’s mother was not a dependent and denied her 4123.59 and 4123.60 benefits. The Commission also found that the estate could not receive accrued but unpaid benefits.
The Commission’s decision was challenged both by mandamus to the Franklin County Court of Appeals and by an R.C. 4123.512 appeal to the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. The Franklin County Court of Appeals dismissed the mandamus action by Robert’s mother, ruling that matters of dependency must be determined by an R.C. 4123.512 appeal. The Franklin County Court of Appeals also ruled that an estate could not receive accrued but unpaid benefits.
The mandamus action in the Franklin County Court of Appeals had addressed only the R.C. 4123.60 claim. An R.C. 4123.512 appeal on the R.C. 4123.59 resulted in a finding by the Jefferson County Court of Appeals that the mother was not a dependent eligible for R.C. 4123.59 benefits.
Decision: Supreme Court rules on appeal from Franklin County Court of Appeals’ decision in mandamus case that only right to participate matters can be appealed under 4123.512. Because the Commission determined that funeral bills should be paid, the Commission determined that the occupational disease caused the death. Therefore, the case did not involve a right to participate issue and the entire matter should be challenged by mandamus.
The Court finds that an estate is entitled to accrued but unpaid compensation. Nossal v. Terex Div. of IBH (1999), 86 Ohio St.3d 175, held that a dependent’s estate could recover compensation owed to the dependents. The Court finds no reason to permit a dependent’s estate to recover accrued but unpaid benefits while prohibiting an injured worker’s estate from recovering accrued but unpaid benefits.
Editor’s Comment: The case goes back to the Franklin County Court of Appeals to determine payment and mother’s dependency issue.
Common Pleas jurisdiction would exist on the dependency issue if the Commission had not allowed the death claim by ordering payment of the funeral bills. This case and Nossal are significant because they recognize the estate may step into the shoes of the injured worker or the dependent and obtain accrued but unpaid benefits. Otherwise, the BWC or self-insurer receive a windfall.