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Graham Law has won an Ohio Supreme Court case involving a woman denied workers’ compensation death benefits after her long-time partner died on the job.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the worker’s fiancé should have been given the chance to prove she was a “family member” wholly dependent on the worker and therefore entitled to death benefits. Now, the Industrial Commission will have to take another look at her case in light of the high court’s ruling.

This is an important win not only for our client, but for a large subset of claimants seeking death benefits across Ohio. Graham Law’s Robert McClelland, who represented the plaintiff, called it a “precedent-setting case that the Industrial Commission will not be able to hide from.”

Benefit Denial Goes All the Way to Supreme Court

Amanda Carpenter was engaged to Christopher McDonald when he died on the job in a 2019 trench collapse. After McDonald’s death, Carpenter filed a workers’ compensation claim for death benefits. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) awarded benefits to the kids but denied benefits to McDonald. A series of appeals ultimately led the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

For a full recap of the events leading up to the Supreme Court case, see our previous post discussing the appeals court ruling.

High Court Says Carpenter May Be Owed Benefits

The Tenth Circuit stopped short of saying Carpenter should be paid death benefits. It simply stated that, based on its interpretation of Ohio workers’ compensation law, she could potentially qualify for benefits as a member of McDonald’s family, even though she was not his surviving spouse.

Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court did not weigh in on whether Carpenter is, in fact, a “member of the family of the deceased employee.” Rather, it affirmed the lower court decision that the IC did not address this question and improperly applied the law when it decided that, as a non-spouse, she could not possibly qualify for survivor benefits.

“I hope that the Industrial Commission can now see the true dependency and provide for this family that really, the workers’ compensation code was meant for.”

Notably, this case turned largely on a single word in the relevant statute. R.C. 4123.59(D) specifies two categories of potential dependents: (1) “a member of the family of the deceased employee” or (2) a person who “bears to the deceased employee the relation of surviving spouse, lineal descendent, ancestor, or brother or sister.”

The Supreme Court pointed out in its decision that, when writing the law, the legislature conspicuously used “or” instead of “and.” Thus, the Supreme Court wrote, “marital status is not determinative of whether a person is eligible to receive death benefits.” If it is determined that the person is a “member of the family of the deceased employee” under the facts of the particular case, “any person may be eligible” to receive death benefits, the Supreme Court concluded.

Robert McClelland told Law360 he was pleased with the Court’s decision to “really follow the letter of the law.”

“I hope that the Industrial Commission can now see the true dependency and provide for this family that really, the workers’ compensation code was meant for,” said McClelland.

Graham Law Provides Start to Finish Workers’ Comp Representation

Justice doesn’t always come quickly. But with perseverance, it can eventually be achieved.

Once you become a client of Graham Law, we will never stop fighting for you. From filing an initial claim for workers’ compensation benefits to appealing a denied claim at a hearing to taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court, Graham Law helps injured workers and their families receive the benefits they’re entitled to.

To discuss an injured worker matter, contact us and schedule a free consultation.

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