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Nearly four-and-a-half years after her fiancé was tragically killed on the job, Amanda Carpenter has been awarded workers’ compensation death benefits by the Ohio Industrial Commission (IC).

The award is the culmination of a hard-fought legal battle that involved numerous appeals and a precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling. Finally, Ms. Carpenter will receive the benefits she is entitled to as a dependent family member of a deceased worker. And hopefully, others in her position will now benefit from the IC’s determination and the efforts of Graham Law that made it possible.

A Workplace Death and a Supreme Court Case

In April 2019, Christopher McDonald died in a trench collapse accident in Marysville, Ohio. His employer, J&J Schlaegel, was fined for three  OSHA violations over the incident.

Ms. Carpenter subsequently applied for workers’ compensation death benefits for herself and the couple’s two minor children. The IC approved benefits for the children but denied her request.

Her denial set off a series of appeals that ultimately ended up before the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled that marital status alone does not determine whether a person is eligible to receive death benefits under state workers’ compensation law. Rather, the Court held, the question is whether the person is a “member of the family of the deceased employee.”

Although the Court did not definitely state that Ms. Carpenter is, in fact, a dependent family member, it sent her case back to the IC and ordered the Commission to revisit this question using a liberal construction “in favor of employees and the dependents of employees.”

The IC’s Ruling

On September 5, 2023, the IC held a hearing to review Ms. Carpenter’s claim in light of the Supreme Court ruling. It awarded benefits to her on the basis that she was a family member of Mr. McDonald at the time of his death, and that she was wholly dependent on him for support.

In its decision, the IC noted that the couple had cohabitated for 10 years; owned a home together; were engaged to be married; parented and raised two children who lived with them; had life insurance policies naming each other as the sole beneficiary; and were jointly liable for their home mortgage, vehicle payments, and credit card accounts. If not for the fatal accident, the IC added, the couple had every intention of being married.

In awarding benefits to Ms. Carpenter, the Commission finds that although she was not married to the Decedent, she was a member of his family at the time of his death and that she was wholly dependent on him for support.

Because Mr. McDonald was the primary household earner, Ms. Carpenter will receive death benefits at a rate of 66 2/3% of her fiancé’s average weekly wage. The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is also responsible for paying medical, hospital, and funeral expenses related to the fatal accident.

Graham Law workers’ compensation attorneys Robert McClelland and David Graham, who represented Ms. Carpenter throughout this years-long legal battle, were with her at the hearing that at last brought the matter to a close.

Graham Law is Dedicated to Ohio Workers and Their Families

Amanda Carpenter’s case shows how a denial of benefits is not the end of the story. With persistence and dedication, a just outcome can be achieved—even if it takes years.

While this legal ordeal is an extreme example of the multiple appeals that may be necessary to win workers’ compensation benefits, Graham Law shows the same level of commitment to all our clients. If we take your case, we will never stop fighting for you. From filing an initial benefit claim to appealing a claim before the IC to arguing a case before state courts if necessary, Graham Law helps injured Ohio workers and their families obtain the benefits state law guarantees them.

We’ve been serving Southeast Ohio for 100 years. We handle most workers’ compensation cases on a contingency fee basis and offer free case reviews. Let our legal family take care of your family: call (800) 621-8585 or contact us.

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