Appeals Court Denies Widows Claim to Husband's Death Benefits After Car Accident

15 Aug, 2019 Liz Carey

                               

Norwood, MA (WorkersCompensation.com) – The Massachusetts Appeals Court has denied a widow’s claim to her husband’s death benefits, ruling his death in a car accident was not work-related.

Xudong Yang died in 2014 as he traveled into New Hampshire to sell a business he owned, Garden Oasis Family Restaurant. His widow, Chuan Zhang, filed a claim for herself and her daughter seeking survivor benefits through Yang’s other company – Oriental International Trading Corp.

According to court records, Yang started Oriental International Trading Corp. (OITC) as an import/export business. In 2005, the company purchased workers’ compensation insurance for Yang, Zhang and two other employees. Throughout the life of the policy, even through various updates and audits, the policy was limited to OITC and its employees and was limited to business operations in Mass.

When Yang opened Garden Oasis in New Hampshire in 2010, he hired staff for the restaurant in that state and operated the business there under the corporate name 223 DW Highway, LLC.

Despite being a separate company in a separate state, Zhang claimed that OITC ran the bookkeeping for Garden Oasis and entered into construction contracts for the restaurant.

“Moreover, although the restaurant had its own bank account, at the direction of the decedent, OITC's accounts manager frequently used OITC's bank account to pay the restaurant's ongoing bills, including mortgage payments, utility bills, and the like,” court records said. “Such financial intermingling extended beyond the decedent's corporate entities to his personal finances as well. For example, ‘OITC paid bills personal to the [decedent] including but not limited to his daughter's college tuition, personal loans, and his mother's funeral.’”

When the restaurant failed, Yang closed it in 2012. When it came time to sell the property, Yang was driving to NH to meet with a potential buyer when he was involved in a car wreck and subsequently died.

Zhang filed a workers’ compensation claim with Norfolk & Dedham Mutual Fire Insurance Company, OITC’s workers’ compensation insurance provider. After a three-day hearing, an administrative judge in the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accident denied the claim, deciding that Yang was not killed in the course of business for OITC. The Department’s review board affirmed the decision and the benefits were denied.

Zhang appealed the decision to the Massachusetts Appeals Court where the decision was upheld.

The court ruled on August 13 that merely because the Garden Oasis’ bills were being paid by OITC did not constitute a claim on the businesses workers’ compensation coverage.

“The administrative judge's finding that the decedent was traveling to New Hampshire to serve his personal interests, not those of OITC, is amply supported in the record,” the court wrote. “The undisputed financial intermingling that was present here does not dictate a different result. Certainly, the fact that OITC largely funded the restaurant venture is a factor to be considered in examining whether it was part of OITC's business, but we do not consider that conclusive.”

The court also denied Zhang’s claim for payment of legal expenses.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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