Dependency Issues? Not in this courtroom, says recent case

Last week, the 11th Appellate District ruled that a common pleas court does not have jurisdiction over an appeal from an Industrial Commission decision as to dependency status in a death claim.

In the case, Centric v. Buehrer, 2018-Ohio-698, the Commission allowed death benefits to the decedent’s children, but denied benefits to his alleged common law spouse.  Since the two were not legally married, there was no presumption of dependency.  R.C. §4123.59 states that a “surviving spouse who is living with the employee at the time of death or a surviving spouse who was separated from the employee at the time of death because of the aggression of the employee” is “presumed to be wholly dependent for their support upon a deceased employee.”

A marriage license is not an absolute requirement for those who are not the decedent’s children to receive death benefits, and death benefits may even be received by non-family members who lived with and were dependent on the decedent for support. (See for example Fitzgerald v. Mayfield (1990), 66 Ohio App.3d 298; Lynch v. Mayfield (1991), 75 Ohio App. 3d 56).  In this case however, the 11th District found that Ms. Centric was not dependent upon the decedent for support.  The two were not living together at the time of death, and the two maintained separate bank accounts and filed individual tax returns.

The 11th District noted that the right of appeal under R.C. §4123.512 is limited to issues involving the “right to participate” in the workers’ compensation system.  The court cited to the decision in State ex rel. Liposchak v. Indus. Comm., 90 Ohio St.2d 276 (2000). Liposchak also involved an appeal to the Commission’s dependency determination.  The Supreme Court held that “right to participate” is limited to issues regarding “whether an employee’s injury, disease, or death occurred in the course of and arising out of his or her employment.”

The issue of what involves the “right to participate” has generated a lot of case-law. The issue of dependency determination seems clear however.  The proper manner to challenge the Industrial Commission’s determination regarding dependency is in Mandamus.

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