Missouri: Schoemehl Fix Doesn’t Stop Benefits for Surviving Spouses

Missouri: Schoemehl Fix Doesn’t Stop Benefits for Surviving Spouses

The Supreme Court concludes an employer must keep paying comp benefits even after an injured worker dies from unrelated causes.  Gervich v Condaire, No. SC 91727 (July 31, 2012), 2012 MO Lexis 162.

In June 26, 2008 the Missouri legislature limited the rights of a surviving spouse's compensation benefits when a spouse dies from unrelated causes, in an effort to abrogate the Supreme Court ruling in  Schoemehl v. Treasurer of Missouri, 217 S.W.3d 900 (Mo. banc 2007). Schoemehl required an employer to continue to pay life-time benefits to a surviving spouse even after a claimant on PTD benefits dies from unrelated causes.

The Supreme Court concluded that the legislative changes are substantive and not remedial and had no retroactive application to cases that were pending.  As a result, cases that accrue or were pending between January 9 2007 (Schoemehl decision) and June 26, 2008 (the legislative fix) might entitle surviving dependents to life-time benefits.  The court rejected a Commission finding that the spouse's interest as a survivor did not "vest" because the claimant died in 2009 after the 2008 fix. The issue of dependency is determined at the date of the injury based on 287.240(4), subject to divesting such as remarriage.

The Gervich case was argued in October 2011.  The Treasurer requested a transfer to the Supreme Court when the court of appeals awarded benefits.  The Fund made an unusual argument and did not adopt the Commission's vesting holding but asserted that Schoemehl only applied to cases pending before the Commission or on appeal and not cases waiting disposition by the Division.  2011 Mo. App. Lexis 289.  The Eastern District concluded the Fund misinterpreted the case law.

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

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