Widow entitled to benefits based on wages at voluntary retirement
Case name: Mason, et al. v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., No. 41138-5-II (Wash. Ct. App. 02/29/12).
Ruling: The Washington Court of Appeals held that a widow was entitled to survivor benefits based on a millwright's wages at the time he voluntarily retired.
it means: In Washington, when a worker's occupational disease manifests itself during voluntary retirement and he subsequently dies due to the disease, survivor benefits are based on the worker's wages at the time of his retirement.
Summary: A millwright was exposed to chemicals while working, resulting in a bilateral lung condition. He received benefits. Later, he died. His claim for benefits was still open. The Department of Labor and Industries found that an occupationally-related condition caused his death and approved surviving spouse benefits for his widow. The department determined that the manifestation of his condition was the last day he worked before he voluntarily retired. The employer asserted that the widow's benefits should be calculated at the statutory minimum because the millwright voluntarily retired before his lung condition manifested. The Washington Court of Appeals held that the widow was entitled to survivor benefits based on the millwright's wages at the time he voluntarily retired.
The court examined statutory amendments that provided that benefits are not paid if a worker voluntarily retired. However, the legislature did not amend a provision allowing death benefits to a worker's survivors. The court found the legislature intentionally omitted the limitation to survivors' death benefits. The court found it reasonable to conclude that the legislature intended to provide different benefits for workers and survivors.
The court found a conflict of law exists when a worker's occupational disease manifests during voluntary retirement and the worker has no current wages on which to base death benefits. The court found that the more specific "death benefit" provision controlled the more general "occupational diseases" statute. The parties did not dispute that the employment conditions caused the millwright's death. Therefore, benefits were based on the millwright's wages at the time of his retirement.
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April 5, 2012
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