Parents can proceed in suit for daughter's work-related death
Case name: Behurst v. Crown Cork & Seal USA, Inc., No. S055500 (Or. 03/05/09).
Ruling: The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the nondependent parents of an employee who was killed at work could recover proceeds for their daughter's wrongful death.
it means: Under Oregon law, a decedent's nondependent parents can recover in an action for intentional wrongful death if the worker has no other surviving dependents.
The decedent was killed while working at a can-making plant. The personal representative of the estate brought an action against the employer on behalf of the parents for intentional wrongful death. The decedent did not have a spouse, children or dependents who would otherwise be considered beneficiaries under Oregon's workers' compensation law.
The employer argued that Oregon's workers' compensation law bars the personal representative of an estate from bringing an action for intentional death when the only beneficiaries are the worker's nondependent parents. The employer argued that the only cause of action was under the workers' compensation provision. The employer further argued that this prevented the nondependent parents from recovering, as "parents" were not included in the class of beneficiaries named in the law.
The representative argued that parents are not limited to bringing a workers' compensation claim if the employer injures or kills a worker by "deliberate intention." This would allow the decedent's personal representative to stand in the decedent's shoes. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed and pointed out that a personal representative is authorized to sue on behalf of the deceased's beneficiaries in an action against the employer. The court pointed out that if the legislature had wanted to prevent a certain class of people from recovering the proceeds of a decedent's estate, it could have done so expressly. The court also pointed out that the beneficiaries who recover in a wrongful death action are sometimes different than the ones who actually bring the suit to court.
Accordingly, the court held the personal representative's claim for wrongful death for the benefit of the decedent's parents properly addressed what would be considered the deceased worker's right to an action against the employer if the worker were still alive. The court pointed out that while a wrongful death action is brought in the place of the worker (i.e., it is the worker's claim), the claim is brought on behalf of the beneficiaries.
April 13, 2009
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