From: Jake Jacobsmeyer [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Estate Benefit Ruled Unconstitutional
The court of appeals has published its decision in the Six Flags v. WCAB case. This decision addresses the issue of whether a deceased employee's estate is entitled to receive $250,000.00 as an additional benefit above and beyond the payment made to the Death Without Dependents Unit where the injured worker leaves no dependents who would otherwise be entitled to benefits.
The WCAB and the trial level awarded $250,000 to the estate of the deceased employee in this case pursuant to Labor Code § 4702(a)(6)(B) based on a finding that there were no dependents. Additionally payment was been ordered to the Death Without Dependents Unit of the State of
The Court of Appeals had little difficulty in following a substantial body of existing authority in determining that the provision was not able to withstand judicial scrutiny:
".we hold that section 4702, subdivision (a)(6)(B), is unconstitutional because the constitutional enabling provision, article XIV, section 4 of the California Constitution (article XIV, section 4), does not identify estates as a class of beneficiaries entitled to workers' compensation death benefits."
The court of appeals focusing on the defendant's argument that the state constitution provides for the legislature to create a workers' compensation system that allows awards of benefits to injured workers or their dependents or the State of
Based on this decision dependent heirs are going to be more willing to assert their rights of an heir rather than decrying any potential dependency benefits in hopes that the estate of the injured worker would receive the $250,000.00 windfall. The statute which created this anomaly was part of the original increased benefits which issued as part of AB 749 in 2002. It was immediately pointed out that there was a constitutional issue with providing for an Award of payment to the estate of an injured worker and in SB 486 the implementation of the statute was deferred until 2004. It was anticipated that the legislature might address the issue in a cleanup bill however this never occurred and the provision was left in place. The original statute had also provided for payment of a single dependency benefit to the conclusively presumed dependent parents of a deceased injured worker if there were no other dependents in existence. The legislature rather than continuing to provide for the $125,000.00 dependency benefit for the dependent parents, repealed that provision and allowed estate payment of $250,000.00 to remain in place, presumably to benefit such dependent parents.
A copy of this decision can be located by clicking on the link on the case name above.
Richard M. Jacobsmeyer*
 In 1918, the voters approved article XX, section 21 of the California Constitution (article XX, section 21) which was the original constitutional enabling provision establishing the workers' compensation system. In 1976, article XX, section 21, was repealed and reenacted as article XIV, section 4, the provision at issue in this case.
 In this opinion, we address one issue, the constitutionality of section 4702, subdivision (a)(6)(B), which purports to provide a death benefit to workers' estates. We express no opinion as to the constitutionality of any other workers' compensation benefit or statute.
Richard M. Jacobsmeyer
Certified Specialist, Workers' Compensation Law
The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization
SHAW, JACOBSMEYER, CRAIN & CLAFFEY
475 – 14th Street, Suite 850
Tel: (510) 645-7172
Fax: (866) 563-0092