Workers' Compensation

Missouri: Wife Loses Dependency Benefits Due to Bigamy Defense

The case involves a fight between a worker's father and the worker's spouse over nearly $100,000. Ard, dec. v Jim Plunkett Inc. 2015 MO WCLR Lexis 101 (lexis.com), 2015 MO WCLR Lexis 101 (Lexis Advance) (Oct 22, 2015).

The worker broke multiple bones in Oct. 2010 in Kansas City when he moved a load of windows weighing more than a ton off of a forklift. The load shifted and they fell on him. He sustained multiple fractures including his ribs, leg, pelvis and arm. He went back to work and was fired about 6 months due to a reduction in force. He never sought further gainful employment. While the parties were waiting for the ALJ to issue a final award, the worker was murdered.

Vocational experts reached opposite conclusions whether he was employable in the open labor market. At the time of the hearing, claimant sought an award for permanent partial benefits. Claimant asserted he had profound physical limitations due to his orthopedic injuries and that he exacerbated his prior psychiatric condition and doubled up on his prior use of Trazadone. The ALJ found no new psychiatric disability but awarded the rating of claimant's expert for the orthopedic injuries.

The ALJ noted prior psychiatric conditions. About 2 years before the accident the worker and his wife separated and she threatened to divorce him. He owned $200,000 to the IRS when he ran a construction business and did not pay taxes. There was a history of prior incarcerations and poly substance abuse.

The ALJ found claimant's right to PPD accrued when he reached maximum medical improvement, which occurred prior to the final hearing. Section 287.230.1 provides "any accrued and unpaid compensation due the employee shall be paid to his dependents without administration, or if there are no dependents, to his personal representative or other persons entitled ...."

Here's the twist:

The estate of the deceased worker asserts the worker’s marriage wasn't valid at the time because of bigamy so the putative spouse should take nothing and the payment of the PPD award should go to the estate.

Victoria Ard denied bigamy and asserts she was married to the worker at the time of the accident in 2010. In 2001 when she attempted to marry the worker she stated her previous husband had died but she had not attempted to annul the marriage. After the worker died, she then filed a petition to annul the first marriage and received a default judgment in her favor. She alleged in the petition that her first husband had too much PTSD at the time to "appreciate the marriage contract." The ALJ found this first marriage was void and was invalid from its inception which made the second marriage valid and allowed an award of benefits to her as a dependent.

The employee's estate (administered by the employee's father) filed the appeal and contested the award of benefits to the "wife." He submitted additional evidence. When the probate court entered its first decree invalidating the first marriage, the estate was not a party to it. The court later held another hearing with the estate present as a party and reversed its first decree which had found the first marriage was void.

The commission found that the parties had due process and the matter could proceed to determine the proper parties even though no one followed the correct procedure to file a suggestion of death and substitution of parties.

The commission relied upon the second decree that invalidated the finding that the first marriage was void, which made the second marriage void and disqualified the "wife" from receiving benefits. As a result, the benefits of $99,300 accrued to the personal representative, the deceased worker's father. The Commission directed all interested parties to show cause within 15 days why the Commission should not issue an order accepting into the record of evidence in this matter that the Circuit Court of Jackson County issued a judgment denying Ms. Ard's petition for declaration of invalidity of marriage. The Commission received no objection. The Commission received briefs filed on behalf of employee's estate and the employer, but did not receive any brief filed by the alleged dependent.

Source: Martin Klug, Huck, Howe & Tobin. Read Martin Klug’s Mo. Workers’ Comp Alerts.

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