Can A Disabled Adult Child Who Is A Partial Dependent Receive Lifetime Death Benefits?

Donald G. Drinko By Donald G. Drinko

Under Ohio Revised Code § 4123.60, “dependents” of an injured worker are entitled to death benefits when the injured worker’s death is the result of a workplace injury or occupational disease. Ohio Revised Code § 4123.59(D)(2) provides that a child is considered wholly dependent when they are “under the age of eighteen years, or twenty-five years if pursuing a full-time educational program while enrolled in an accredited educational institution and program, or over said age if physically or mentally incapacitated from earning, upon only the one parent who is contributing more than one-half of the support for such child and with whom the child is living at the time of the death of such parent, or for whose maintenance such parent was legally liable at the time of the parent’s death.” But what about disabled adult children who are only partial dependents of the deceased employee? Would they still be entitled to full death benefits?

The Tenth District Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue in State ex rel. Tradesmen Internatl., L.L.C. v. Indus. Comm., 2022-Ohio-2935. This case involved a son’s application for death benefits after his father was killed in a workplace accident in the course and scope of his employment. At the time of the accident, the son was 48 years old and lived with his mother, the injured worker’s ex-wife, but the decedent provided them money for mortgage payments every month. Administratively, a DHO initially denied the son’s application, finding there was insufficient evidence to establish he was a dependent of his father. This decision was appealed, and an SHO found that the son was a partial dependent based on his lifelong disabilities and the decedent’s financial backing, including the mortgage payments. After further administrative appeals were denied, the employer filed a mandamus action in the Tenth District Court of Appeals seeking to vacate the SHO order, and issue an order that the son was not a partial dependent. The Magistrate recommended the employer’s request be denied, finding that the Industrial Commission had not abused its discretion in finding the son was a partial dependent of the decedent. The employer filed objections to the magistrate’s decision.

In overruling the employer’s objections, the Tenth District Court held that there was “some evidence” that the son was unable to provide for himself without assistance, and the decedent helped provide for him. The Court found that the injured worker was making mortgage payments on the house after he moved out, which he was not required to do under the divorce decree, and this was evidence that he did so for the benefit of his son.  The Court also addressed the employer’s objection to the awarding of lifetime benefits for a partial dependency, as benefits for a whole dependency are statutorily limited. The Court cited R.C. § 4123.59(C), which provides that partial benefits “shall continue for such time as the Administrator in each case determines.” The son’s disabilities – he was born deaf and blind in one eye – were considered lifelong, and the Court held the lifetime award of benefits was within the Industrial Commission’s discretion. Therefore, the Court adopted the Magistrate’s decision, and overruled the employer’s objections.

As shown in Tradesmen, a disabled adult child who is considered a partial dependent can be entitled to lifelong death benefits if they have lifelong disabilities and are unable to provide for themselves. If you would like to submit a question to Shop talk, or would like to discuss this or any other workers’ compensation issues, please feel free to contact me or my associate Gary Baker.