Common law wife collects benefits based on probate court's finding
Hyde v. Cotton, No. 108367 (Okla. 04/19/11).
Ruling: The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the common law wife of a deceased oilfield hand was entitled to death benefits.
What it means:
In Oklahoma, if a probate court finds that a deceased worker was in a common law marriage, the common law wife is entitled to workers' compensation benefits.
Summary: An oilfield hand was seriously injured when the oil well where he was working blew up. The hand died later that day. The employer admitted that the hand died while in the course of employment. The hand's mother filed a claim for death benefits. The hand's alleged common law wife also filed for benefits. Subsequently, the probate court determined that the hand was in a common law marriage and that the common law wife was his surviving spouse. The mother did not appeal the probate court's ruling. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the common law wife was entitled to death benefits.
The employer argued that the probate court's judgment was not applicable because it was not a part of the probate proceedings. The court disagreed. The court found that the employer and mother had the same interest in regard to the common law wife's status as a surviving spouse. The court explained that the workers' compensation court was bound by the probate court because the issue was decided there first. The wife met the definition of a surviving spouse under the workers' compensation law.
The court also explained that summary judgment is not available in workers' compensation proceedings.
Two dissenting judges opined that the mother and employer did not have the same interest regarding the common law wife's status in the probate case. Also, the judges said a surviving spouse was different from a common law wife.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
June 6, 2011
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