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Comp benefits due surviving children despite rift from parents

Comp benefits due surviving children despite rift from parents

An Arkansas court ruled that workers compensation survivor benefits must be paid to a deceased worker's biological children, even though he had terminated his parental rights and the children were adopted.

According to court records, Robert Emmons suffered a catastrophic compensable injury while working for Valley View Agri-Systems in 2007. The injury rendered him a quadriplegic and permanently and totally disabled. At the time of the injury, he had two minor children living with him and their biological mother; all were dependent on Mr. Emmons for support, according to court records.

Following his $75,000 settlement from Guarantee Insurance Co., Mr. Emmons was receiving monthly permanent and total disability payments from the Arkansas Death and Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund. In 2011, due to “drug use” by both Mr. Emmons and his wife, who was incarcerated several times, the children were removed from the home, according to court records. In 2013, parental rights were terminated in adoption proceedings and, later that same year, Mr. Emmons died of complications from his injuries.

According to court records, the two children filed for statutory survivor benefits following Mr. Emmons’ death. “The Workers’ Compensation Commission in early 2016 ruled that they were not eligible for survivor benefits because by the time the two children filed for benefits they had been adopted, which rendered them strangers to the father/employee and, therefore, no longer his dependents,” court documents state. 

The children appealed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals in Little Rock.

In a split ruling on Nov. 2, a nine-judge appellate court panel overturned the commission’s decision.

The five-judge majority ruling stated: “In this appeal, (the children) argue that the Commission erred in determining their dependency status as of the date they filed their claim, instead of as of the date of their biological father’s compensable injury, thereby wrongfully denying them survivor benefits under the applicable workers’ compensation law. We find appellants’ argument to have merit.”


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