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There are very few circumstances where a claimant’s request for benefits and a defendant’s desire to provide the claimed benefit are fully aligned. One of those circumstances is where there has been a work-related death and a partial dependent is making a claim for death benefits under Labor Code Section 4701(b). In the case of the partial dependent’s claim, a defendant is motivated to support the claim because if it fails, pursuant to Labor Code Section 4706.5(a), a full death benefit escheats to the State of California and is to be paid to the Death without Dependent’s unit of the Department of Industrial Relations (DWD).
Recently, a panel of commissioners with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) addressed the situation where the partial dependents received a substantial third-party recovery (almost $600,000) and subsequently dismissed their claim for workers’ compensation death benefits (Leon v. DSS, 2019 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS --). In Leon, DWD made the assertion that since the partial dependents had dismissed their claim for death benefits, there were no partial dependents and that the defendant in the workers’ compensation case owed DWD $250,000.
The commissioners upheld the Workers’ Compensation Administrative Law Judge (WCJ), who had held that dependency is determined as of the time of the injury, and that the facts that the partial dependents subsequently dismissed their claims and that there was a significant third-party credit that could ultimately negate the death benefit, were of no consequence. There were dependents at the time of the decedent’s death and, therefore, DWD was not entitled to a recovery.
In conclusion, as important as it is to inform the DWD of cases where dependency may be an issue (See, 8 Cal. Code Reg. § 10501), it is also important to analyze carefully the facts of these cases. In Leon, though there were no dependents making a claim for benefits by the time the issues were litigated, the relevant question was actually whether there were any dependents in existence when the decedent was tragically killed.
Practitioners should check the subsequent history of any cases before citing to them.
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