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Widow can collect survivor's benefits without filing separate claim

Posted On: Jan. 29, 2016 12:00 AM CST

A worker's widow wasn't required to file a separate claim for survivor's benefits since her husband filed a claim for disability benefits before he died from an occupational illness, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled.

As a photograph engraver for Connecticut firm Swan Engraving Inc. for nearly 30 years, Arthur McCullough was exposed to toxins from using carbon arc lamps, according to court records. He was diagnosed with disabling pulmonary fibrosis in February 2000 and filed a claim for disability benefits in May 2002.

However, before his claim was accepted, Mr. McCullough died from his occupational illness in March 2005, records show.

In April 2006, Mr. McCullough's wife, Janice McCullough, filed a claim for survivor's benefits, according to records. Her late husband's underlying claim for benefits was accepted in February 2013, but her claim for survivor's benefits was not.

At a hearing for Ms. McCullough's claim for survivor benefits, Swan Engraving said her claim wasn't timely because it was filed more than one year after her husband's death and more than six years after her husband's first manifestation of symptoms, records show.

However, a commissioner for the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission determined that Ms. McCullough's claim was timely and ordered Swan Engraving to pay her survivor's benefits, according to records.

Swan Engraving appealed to the Workers' Compensation Review Board, which reversed the commissioner's decision, ruling that “a written notice of claim for compensation (must be) given within one year from the date of the accident or within three years from the first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease.”

Ms. McCullough argued that her claim was not barred by the statute of limitations because “the timely filing of the decedent's notice of claim satisfied the requirements of that statute and there is no requirement that she file a separate claim,” records show.

In a decision, to be published in the Connecticut Law Journal on Feb. 2, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the board's decision and remanded the case with direction to affirm the commissioner's decision.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Ms. McCullough wasn't required to file a separate timely claim for survivor's benefits since her husband had filed a timely claim for disability benefits prior to his death.

“Nothing in the plain language of (the statute) seems to apply to the exact situation in the present case,” according to the ruling. “None of the other sections of the (Workers' Compensation Act) either require that a survivor file a separate claim or provide a statute of limitations for such a claim … In the face of a legislative omission, it is not our role to engraft language onto the statute to require a dependent to file a claim for survivor's benefits in such a situation.”