By Sheena Harrison, Crain News Service
SALEM, Ore. (April 14, 2015) — The estate of an injured worker who died before a claim for workers' compensation benefits could be finalized is entitled to seek those benefits despite the man's death, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled.
Gary D. Sather filed a workers' comp claim for a work-related lumbar strain he suffered in 2009, according to court records. Salem -based SAIF Corp. was the workers' comp insurer for Mr. Sather's employer.
Mr. Sather suffered from a pre-existing multilevel degenerative disc disease that caused him to have lower back pain that radiated into his legs, records show. He filed for a workers' comp claim that would have combined his lumbar strain with his degenerative back condition, but SAIF denied the claim, finding that the work-related lumbar strain was not the major contributing cause of Mr. Sather's combined condition.
The Oregon Workers' Compensation Board upheld SAIF's claim denial, and Mr. Sather appealed to the Oregon Court of appeals, according to court filings. However, he died from causes unrelated to his work injury before the appeal could be decided, and left no surviving spouse or other beneficiaries.
SAIF moved to dismiss Mr. Sather's claim after his death, but a representative for Mr. Sather's estate sought in court filings to be substituted as the party of interest in Mr. Sather's pending case. The Oregon appellate court sided with SAIF, finding that Oregon only allows benefits to be awarded to a worker's estate if they had been granted prior to that person's death.
An en banc Oregon Supreme Court unanimously overturned that decision April 9. The court found that Oregon workers' comp law does not restrict an injured worker's estate or other beneficiaries from receiving benefits that were undecided at the time of the worker's death.
“Instead, in the absence of persons who would have been entitled to receive such benefits if the injury causing a worker's disability had been fatal, an estate is entitled to pursue to final determination a worker's request for a hearing ... when the worker dies prior to the final disposition of the request,” the ruling reads.
The case was remanded to the appellate court for a determination of benefits in Mr. Sather's case.
This report appeared on the website of Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.