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Calif. death benefits law ruled unconstitutional


LOS ANGELES--Requiring employers to pay a $250,000 workers compensation benefit to the estate of an employee who dies on the job and does not have dependents is unconstitutional, a California appeals court has ruled.

The state labor code requiring employers to pay the award is unconstitutional because the California Constitution does not identify estates as a class of beneficiaries entitled to workers comp death benefits, a three-judge panel in California's 2nd Appellate District found Monday in a unanimous ruling in Six Flags Inc. vs. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board et al.

The goal of workers compensation is to help injured workers and their dependents, the court said.

"In contrast, a probate estate may, by will, pass the estate...or property to any designated person or entity, including persons who do not qualify as dependents under the Labor Code," the Los Angeles court's opinion states.

The case stems from the death of Bantita Rackchamroon, who was struck by an amusement park ride while working at Six Flags in April 2004. Her estate administrator filed a death benefit claim.

But Pacific Employers Insurance Co., Six Flags' insurer, asserted that the law requiring employers to pay the $250,000 is unconstitutional. A workers compensation judge disagreed, however, and awarded $250,000 to the estate, payable by Pacific.

California's Workers' Compensation Appeals Board declined reconsideration, and Pacific sought relief from the appeals court and was joined by other insurers filing amicus briefs.

The appeals court overturned the $250,000 award, but affirmed a $125,000 payment to the state's Department of Industrial Relations, Death Without Dependents Unit, as required by the California Constitution since 1972.