Medina County Courthouse

Monday, August 30, 2010

Judge Kimbler Decision on Survival of Workers' Compensation Claim

Below is an opinion that I recently filed in a civil case. Please note that the opinion is subject to an appeal.

Ms. Tracy Lytle filed an appeal from a decision of the Industrial Commission disallowing her claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits. Prior to a determination by this Court as to whether she was entitled to such benefits, she died. The Estate then filed a motion to substitute itself as a party pursuant to Civ. R. 25 (A). The Court granted that motion. The State then filed a motion to dismiss this action. The motion alleged that the cause of action for benefits abated with Ms. Lytle’s death. Therefore, the State alleged that there was no longer a viable cause of action for benefits.

In Melton v. Fisher Body Elyria, 1987 Ohio App. LEXIS 9408, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Appellate District, sitting as the Lorain County Court of Appeals, held that the death of a worker extinguished the claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The Court wrote the following:

“Ohio workers compensation law creates two separate and distinct categories of individuals entitled to benefits: living employees and their dependents after death. Ratliff v. Flowers (1970), 25 Ohio App. 2d 113; Bozzelli v. Indus. Comm. (1930), 122 Ohio St. 201.

An injured employee's cause of action accrues at the time he receives an injury in the course of his employment. A dependent's cause of action, accrues at the time of the death of the employee from an injury received in the course of his employment. Indus. Comm. v. Kamidth (1928), 118 Ohio St. 1, paragraph three and four of the syllabus approved and followed in Indus. Comm. v. Davis (1933), 126 Ohio 593, paragraph one and two of the syllabus. Therefore, such causes of action are separate and not dependent.

Before his death the claimant had filed a motion for further allowance with the Industrial Commission. This claim was not ruled on before his death. When a claimant dies, action on any claim pending before the bureau or industrial commission, it abated by the claimant's death. Ohio Administrative Code Section 4123-5-21; Ratliff, supra. Therefore claimant's motion for further allowance was abated. However, since appellant's claim for death benefits, pursuant to R.C. 4123.59, is a separate cause of action, claimant's death did not abate it.

The law recognizes the right of dependents to recover under a separate action for death benefits as long as it is shown that the cause of death was the direct and proximate result of the industrial injury. Oswald v. Connor, (1985), 16 Ohio St. 3d 38. Therefore, the trial court erred in not affording the dependents a trial and by granting judgment to the appellees on the basis that the claim was abated.”

In this case, however, the claim is not for death benefits, but for benefits for the injury that the Estate claims that Ms. Lytle was due at the time of her death. Therefore, even though the language quoted above is dicta as far as the issue of whether a cause of action for benefits that allegedly accrued to the employee at the time of her death abates, this Court finds that the Melton decision is persuasive and therefore, this Court will follow it.

This position has also been adopted by other appellate courts in Ohio. See, for example, Hook v. City of Springfield (2000), 141 Ohio App. 3d 260 and Hlatky v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 1993 Ohio App. LEXIS 4009.

Therefore, this Court grants the motion to dismiss. Court costs over and above any deposit filed with the Clerk of Courts are hereby waived.


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