Deceased employee’s estate not entitled to workers’ comp benefits, appeals court rules

By | December 11, 2006

The Second Applegate Court of California has ruled in Six Flags Inc. vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, et. al. that it is unconstitutional to award a $250,000 worker’s compensation death benefit to the estate of an employee who suffers fatal injuries on the job.

California’s Labor Code section 4702, subdivision (a)(6)(B) provides that when a worker without dependents suffers fatal injury during the course and scope of employment, the employer must pay $250,000 to the deceased worker’s estate as a worker’s compensation death benefit. However, the appeals court ruled this section of the code is unconstitutional because the state constitution “does not identify estates as a class of beneficiaries entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits.”

“Awarding workers’ compensation death benefits to an estate conflicts with the underlying policy of the workers’ compensation scheme, which is to provide financial support to a worker and a worker’s dependents when the worker suffers job-related injury or death,” the court said.

Bantita Rackchamroon, an operator hostess for Six Flags Inc., suffered industrial injury and died after she was struck by an amusement park ride on April 2004. Following her death, her estate administrator filed a workers’ compensation death benefit claim.

Pacific Employers Insurance, Six Flags’s insurer, asserted that the law requiring employers to pay $250,000 to an estate was unconstitutional. However, a workers’ compensation judge disagreed, and instructed Pacific to award the benefit to the estate. Pacific then filed a petition for reconsideration.

California’s Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board denied the petition for reconsideration, explaining that workers’ comp judges do not have authority to rule on the constitutionality of statues. Subsequently, Pacific filed with the appeals court.

The appeals court annulled the award of $250,000 to the estate of Rackchamroon but affirmed an award of $125,000 to the state’s Department of Industrial Relations, Death without Dependents Unit, as required by the California Constitution.

To view the full court opinion, visit http://www.courtinfo.ca. gov/opinions/documents/B184245.PDF

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Insurance Journal West December 11, 2006
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