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Worker's stepson may be due death benefits after widow dies


A worker's widow died before receiving workers compensation death benefits for herself and her son, but the employer could still be liable for payments to the estate, the Tennessee Supreme Court's Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel has ruled.

Steven Stamps, who worked for Ashland City, Tennessee-based steel fabricator Trinity Marine Products Inc., died in October 2011, court records show.

Alleging that Mr. Stamps died from an occupational lung disease, his widow, Marilyn Stamps, sought an award of workers comp death benefits in the Chancery Court for Davidson County in March 2013, according to records.

Her complaint also alleged that Steven Cozel, her son and Mr. Stamps' stepson, was entitled to benefits as a dependent child, records show.

While Trinity admitted to Mr. Stamps' employment, it denied that his death was work-related and said Ms. Stamps and Steven Cozel weren't entitled to benefits, according to records.

Ms. Stamps died of cancer in January 2014, and an amended complaint was filed naming her estate and Steven Cozel as plaintiffs, records show.

Trinity argued that Ms. Stamps' estate and Mr. Cozel didn't have standing to seek benefits, and that the right to continue receiving benefits terminates upon the surviving spouse's death, according to records.

The Chancery Court agreed, granted Trinity's motion for summary judgment, and dismissed the complaint, records show.

On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court's Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel on Tuesday reversed the trial court's judgment, ruling that Ms. Stamps' estate can pursue its claim for benefits.

“Extinguishing a dependent's right to seek benefits because he or she 'fails to live long enough to survive delays inherent in the judicial process' is neither just, nor logical, nor fair,” according to the ruling.

The case has been remanded to the trial court.

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