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Schoemehl v. Treasurer of the State of Missouri

May 9, 2006

FRED SCHOEMEHL, DECEASED, ANNETTE SCHOEMEHL, PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT
v.
TREASURER OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI, AS CUSTODIAN FOR THE SECOND INJURY FUND, DEFENDANT/RESPONDENT.



Appeal From: Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer, Presiding Judge

Opinion Vote: AFFIRMED.

Parrish, J., Lynch, J., concur.

Opinion

Annette Schoemehl ("Appellant") appeals the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission") awarding her permanent disability benefits for the period of time from December 3, 2003, to January 2, 2004, rather than awarding her the continuing permanent disability benefits of her deceased husband, Fred Schoemehl ("Fred").*fn1 We affirm.

The facts of this case have been stipulated to by the parties. Fred was married to Appellant on January 18, 1986, and remained married to her until his death on January 2, 2004. During their marriage, and specifically on May 11, 2001, Fred worked as an employee for Cruiser Country, Inc. ("Cruiser Country"). Cruiser Country was operating and subject to the provisions of the Missouri Workers' Compensation Law. On May 11, 2001, Fred injured his left knee during a work-related accident that arose out of and in the course of his employment with Cruiser Country. Fred filed a claim for compensation against Cruiser Country and the Treasurer of the State of Missouri as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund ("Respondent"). Cruiser Country and its insurer paid Fred $20,661.65 in temporary total disability benefits and $9,477.08 in medical benefits.

On January 2, 2004, Fred died from causes unrelated to his May 11, 2001, work-related injury. The only dependent Fred left upon his passing was Appellant.*fn2 Appellant then filed an amended claim for compensation against Cruiser Country and Respondent on February 19, 2004. Appellant settled her claim against Cruiser Country and its insurer for payment of a lump-sum amount of $11,844.37, which was based upon disability of twenty-five percent of Fred's left knee, and $1,433.97 in underpaid temporary total disability benefits. At the time of settlement with Cruiser Country and its insurer, the claim against Respondent for total permanent disability remained.

Appellant's claim for compensation against Respondent was heard by the Division of Workers' Compensation. The administrative law judge ("ALJ") hearing the case determined that Fred was rendered permanently and totally disabled as a result of the combination of his May 11, 2001 work-related injury and his pre-existing disabilities. The ALJ ordered Respondent liable to Appellant for permanent total disability benefits from December 3, 2003, through Fred's death on January 2, 2004. The total amount ordered to be paid to Appellant was $1,157.01. The ALJ denied Appellant's claim for additional weekly benefits of $261.62 for the remainder of Appellant's lifetime after January 2, 2004. In his ruling, the ALJ stated,

[Appellant] was not the injured employee, her husband was. Section 287.200.1, RSMo, states: "Compensation for permanent total disability shall be paid during the continuance of such disability for the lifetime of the employee at the weekly rate of compensation in effect under this subsection on the date of the injury for which compensation is being made." (Emphasis added.) Fred Schoemehl is the employee who was injured; his lifetime (hence the payment of permanent total disability compensation) ended on January 2, 2004.

In a 2-1 decision, the Commission adopted the decision of the ALJ. In her sole point on appeal, Appellant posits that the Commission misconstrued the Workers' Compensation Law by denying her Fred's permanent total disability benefits of $261.26 per week following his death on January 2, 2004. Appellant claims that it was error for the Commission to apply section 287.200.1*fn3 in the manner that it did; she claims she was entitled to weekly benefits of $261.26 for the remainder of her lifetime following Fred's death on January 2, 2004.

Appellant initially argues that the Commission's decision created legislative disharmony. Appellant claims that the Commission incorrectly applied the Workers' Compensation Law because as Fred's dependent, she is considered an "employee" under section 287.020.1, and thus under section 287.200.1, permanent total disability benefits are to continue for the remainder of her lifetime. She also relies upon section 287.230.2 for her claim that unpaid unaccrued benefits should be paid to the dependents of the injured employee if that employee dies of causes unrelated to the work-injury. Her second contention is that the decision contains a constitutional infirmity, mainly that it violates the Equal Protection clauses of both the United States Constitution, amend. XIV, and the Missouri Constitution, article I, section 2, because the decision treats dependents of permanently totally disabled individuals worse than it treats dependents of permanently partially disabled individuals.

Section 287.495.1 governs this Court's standard of review in this case, which provides, in pertinent part:

The court, on appeal, shall review only questions of law and may modify, reverse, remand for hearing, or set aside the award upon any of ...


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