When Are Worker’s Family Members Considered Dependents and When Are They Not?

07 Sep When Are Worker’s Family Members Considered Dependents and When Are They Not?

A recent story out of Kansas City, Missouri, calls into question as to when family members are considered dependents and when they are not. It is a disturbing situation because the deceased worker “should” have established that his family members were dependents when settling a claim for permanent total disability benefits. Was the disabled worker asked that question at the time of settlement or was the question “conveniently” left out of the settlement?

           Living today in a family situation usually means that a spouse and children are automatically designated as surviving dependents when a spouse passes away. This would be regardless of whether the second spouse was working a regular job or not. No family can live solely off the benefits of one spouse while prices continue to rise for rent, mortgage, food, and other necessities of living. When children are involved, they also receive reduced benefit payments. So, what was the story where the surviving family members were not considered dependents?

Lawrence v. Treasurer of the State of Missouri, 470 S.W.3d 6 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015)

           Ronald Lawrence, a long-time Southwestern Bell Telephone lineman (22 years), sustained major injuries during an accident at work on May 11, 2005. He filed for workers’ compensation from both his employer as well as the Second Injury Fund (SIF). Lawrence’s employer agreed to a settlement of $21,243 for the permanent partial disability (15%) of the primary injury.

           Lawrence’s application to SIF was in reference to pre-existing injuries from before the major accident in 2005. The earlier injuries included in court documents were a back injury in 1978, back surgery in 1983, right shoulder surgery for rotor cuff repair in 1995, and in 1997, had the same surgery done to his left shoulder. 

Lawrence also underwent right-knee surgery in October of 2000 and was also diagnosed with mild cubital tunnel syndrome, Raynaud’s Phenomenon (blood circulation issues in hands and feet), a “silent heart attack” in 2000, along with asthma conditions since childhood.

           While Lawrence was originally denied benefits from SIF, upon appeal in 2015, after reviewing the facts and medical testimony, he was granted permanent and total disability status and total disability funds from SIF. In this SIF disability ruling, it is unclear in what manner Lawrence does not mention his family members (wife, two daughters) as his “dependents.”

Ensuring Proper Legal Representation

           Always have a workers’ compensation attorney review any work-related settlements, including the structure of the agreement, before signing any papers. It is important to make sure that those you may leave behind will still receive financial help should you pass away earlier than expected. 

           Under Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S) Title 23 § 23-1046, surviving family members (spouse and children) are eligible to receive benefits at rates that are defined in the statute. Spouses receive 66 and two-thirds percent of the deceased worker’s average monthly wage until the spouse passes away or remarries. Any children of this marriage receive 35 percent of the worker’s average monthly until they reach the age of 18, or if enrolled in college, until reaching the age of 22. 

Conclusion

           It is important to make sure that in cases of settlements and other benefit payments, all terms of any paperwork be reviewed by a workers’ compensation attorney to ensure proper coverage under all possible circumstances. 

           If you need help filing a workers’ compensation claim or if you have concerns about your case, call us at once for a free consultation. We are here to help. 602-346-9009

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