ESTATE OF JAMES ROCK v. UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT, SC 19465
Compensation Review Board
Workers’ Compensation; Whether Deceased Employee’s Estate Lacked Standing to Pursue Claim for Workers’ Compensation Benefits Because Employee Never Filed Claim for Benefits During his Lifetime. James Rock (the decedent) was employed by the defendant university before he passed away in 2010. After his death, his estate (the plaintiff) filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, alleging that he contracted mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos during the course of his employment with the defendant. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the claim, arguing that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue the matter because the decedent never sought benefits during his lifetime. The trial commissioner granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed. The Workers’ Compensation Review Board determined that the trial commissioner properly dismissed the claim to the extent that the plaintiff had sought temporary total disability benefits pursuant to General Statutes § 31-307 or permanent partial disability benefits pursuant to General Statutes § 31-308. It first noted that the decedent failed to file a claim for benefits pursuant to § 31-307 before his death. It also emphasized that, unlike a specific award for the loss of the use of a body part, an award under § 31-307, which compensates an employee for a diminished earning capacity, does not pass to the employee’s estate. It added that while the underlying purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act is to provide for the injured worker and the worker’s dependents, the decedent in the present matter did not have any dependents at the time of his death. Accordingly, the board concluded that the plaintiff was not eligible for benefits under § 31-307. With regard to permanent partial disability benefits under § 31-308, the board noted that when an employee is awarded such benefits but dies prior to receiving the entire award, the remainder of the award is treated as an asset that passes to the employee’s dependents or heirs. It further noted that an employee’s surviving spouse may be eligible to receive permanent partial disability benefits if the employee had filed a workers’ compensation claim and had been receiving temporary total disability benefits prior to the employee’s death. The board then pointed out that, here, no specific award of benefits under § 31-308 was granted to the decedent during his lifetime and that there was no pending claim for any benefits at the time of his death. It further determined that the plaintiff had failed to identify any legal precedent supporting its argument that a deceased employee’s estate may obtain permanent partial disability benefits even where the employee did not seek such benefits during his or her lifetime. The board therefore affirmed the trial commissioner’s finding that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue permanent partial disability benefits. In this appeal, the plaintiff argues that it had standing to seek benefits under §§ 31-307 and 31-308 and that the dismissal of its claim constituted a violation of its rights to due process, equal protection, and access to the courts.