On May 1, 2015, the Appellate Court of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Division had occasion to answer this question. The injured worker filed an application under the Workers’ Compensation Act, seeking benefits for injuries sustained while she was working. Prior to the hearing, the injured worker died from causes unrelated to the accident. In this case, the administrator of the injured worker’s estate filed an amended application, substituting herself as the claimant. After a hearing, the arbitrator awarded weekly temporary total disability benefits, medical expenses, and found that the injured worker had sustained permanent partial disability from her work injury. The arbitrator ruled that any permanent partial disability (PPD) stopped with the injured worker’s death, and refused to award any benefits to her estate. The administrator appealed the decision to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The Commission agreed with the arbitrator’s ruling, and the administrator sought to appeal the matter to the Circuit Court.

Unfortunately, the injured worker had no eligible dependents at the time of her death. In the appeal, the Appellate Court analyzed the issue of whether the estate of an unmarried claimant who dies without leaving any dependents may recover benefits that accrued prior to the employee’s death.  Under two sections stating who the benefits would be payable to, the Appellate Court found that these two provisions merely established to whom the benefits will be paid if the injured employee dies with the spouse or dependents before he is fully compensated for his work related injury. They did not limit the ability of a deceased employee’s estate to collect accrued unpaid benefits that were due to the injured employee while he was alive. The appellate court found that all of the employer’s arguments were without merit. Judgment of the Circuit Court was reversed, the Commission decision was vacated, and the matter was sent back to the Commission with instructions to determine what benefits accrued prior to the injured worker’s death, and to award those benefits to the administrator of the injured worker’s estate.

 

Appellate Court, Fatal Work Injuries