The son of plaintiff Mr. and Mrs.
Payne was killed when kicked in the chest by a horse while working at
defendant’s stables. He died
about one year after his injury. At
the time of the injury, worker’s compensation law provided each parent in this
situation with an award of $20,000; after the injury, but before death, the
amount was increased to $75,000. The
worker’s compensation judge ruled that the lesser amount was due, but in this
opinion, the Court of Appeal says that since the claim did not arise until the
boy died, the larger amount—the law in effect at the time of death—is due. Accordingly, it reverses the judgment of the worker’s
compensation judge and renders judgment of $75,000 for each of the parents.
In this workers' compensation
case, the claimants, Clarence and Barbara Payne, appeal a summary judgment in
favor of their deceased son's employer, Sam David Racing Stables, and its
insurer, Continental Casualty Company. The Workers' Compensation Judge ("WCJ")
found that the law in effect at the time of the deceased employee's accident
governed the surviving parents' claim for death benefits. For the following
reasons, we reverse and render.
The sole issue presented by this
appeal is whether the amount of death benefits authorized by LSA‑R.S.
23:1231, as amended, is applicable to this claim, where the work‑related
accident occurred prior to the effective date of the amendment, but the worker's
death occurred after the effective date of the amendment. We hold that because
the claimants' cause of action arose at the time of their son's death, which was
after the effective date of the amendment to LSA‑R.S. 23:1231, the
claimants are entitled to the amount of death benefits authorized by the
statute, as amended. Consequently, the claimants' partial motion for summary
judgment should have been granted and the defendants' motion for summary
judgment was improvidently granted.
On January 10, 2001, Daniel Payne
("Daniel") was kicked in the chest by a horse at his place of
employment, Sam David Racing Stables. The employer paid workers' compensation
benefits and medical expenses. On January 12, 2002, Daniel died.
The parties entered into a
partial settlement whereby the employer and its insurer paid the claimants death
benefits in the amount of $20,000 each, in accordance with the provisions of LSA‑R.S.
23:1231 as it existed at the time of Daniel's work‑related injury. They
also paid $5,000 for burial expenses. The claimants reserved their right to
pursue the balance of the death benefits authorized by Section 1231, as amended.
Plaintiffs contend the WCJ erred
in denying their motion for summary judgment. They argue that the statute in
effect at the time that their cause of action for death benefits arose governs
the amount of benefits to which they are entitled.
A motion for summary judgment is
proper when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and
admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine
issue of material fact and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. LSA‑C.C.P. art. 966(B)(C)(1).
At the time of Daniel's accident
on January 10, 2001, LSA‑R.S. 23:1231 read, in pertinent part:
However, if the employee leaves no legal dependents, the sum of twenty thousand dollars shall be paid to each surviving parent
of the deceased employee, ...
Acts 1992, No. 431 § 1 (emphasis
At the time of Daniel's death on
January 12, 2002, LSA‑R.S. 23:1231 had been amended, effective August 15,
2001, and now reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
However, if the employee leaves no legal dependents entitled to benefits ... the
sum of seventy‑five thousand dollars
shall be paid to each surviving parent of the deceased employee, ...
Acts 2001, No. 1156, § 1
Our Courts have consistently held
that the provisions of Section 1231 create a cause of action for death benefits.
The death of the worker is a condition precedent to the creation of the cause of
action. Williams v. Louisiana Office of
Risk Management, 93‑795 (La.App. 3d Cir.3/2/94), 634 So.2d 1260;
Tran v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 95‑542 (La.App. 5th Cir.11/15/95),
665 So.2d 507; Estate of Dean v. K‑Mart Corporation, 96‑142 (La.App.
5th Cir.7/30/96), 678 So.2d 599.
In the present case, the
claimants' cause of action, i.e., their son's death, arose after the effective
date of the amendment to LSA‑R.S. 23:1231. Therefore, the amended statute
governs the amount of the award for death benefits. As stated in
Williams, supra and Estate of Dean, supra, "[A]n examination of the
prospective versus the retrospective
application of that law is unnecessary." (emphasis added)
Here, each surviving parent was
entitled to death benefits in the amount of seventy‑five thousand dollars
in accordance with the statute. Consequently, appellants were entitled to
judgment as a matter of law and the WCJ erred in concluding otherwise.
For the above reasons, the
summary judgment by the Office of Workers' Compensation in favor of the
defendant, Sam David Racing Stables, is reversed. Summary judgment is hereby
rendered in favor of the claimants, Clarence Payne and Barbara Payne, awarding
each claimant the sum of $75,000 in death benefits based on the
work‑related death of their son, Daniel Payne. Costs of this appeal are
assessed to the defendant/appellee, Sam David Racing Stables.
REVERSED AND RENDERED.
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