Do You Know the Rule? Ohio Test for 'Dependency'

                               

Columbus, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) -- In Ohio, a person may be entitled to death benefits under the worker’s compensation statute if the individual was wholly or partly dependent on the deceased when he died. 

The information below explains the two types of dependency cases in Ohio. The first relates to those individuals whom the court presumes to be wholly dependent, and who are thus generally entitled to death benefits.  

The second involves all other individuals. With respect to the second group, the Industrial Commission determines, based on the facts, whether the individual was dependent on the employee when he died.  

Determining Whether an Individual is ‘Dependent’ 

Category 1: Individuals presumed to be wholly dependent  

  1. A surviving spouse living with the employee when he died;   
  2. A surviving spouse separated from the employee at the time of death because of the employee’s aggression; or   
  3. A child under the age of 18, or 25 if pursuing a full-time educational program while enrolled in an accredited educational institution and program, or over said age if physically or mentally incapacitated from earning.    

Note: For the presumption to apply in the third scenario above, the following must be true:   

  • The child is relying on only the one parent who is contributing more than one-half of his support; and 
  • The child is living with that parent at the time of death, or the parent was legally liable for the child’s maintenance at the time of death. 

Category 2: All other cases – case-by-case decision 

The question of dependency, in whole or in part, is determined in accordance with the facts in each case existing at the time of the injury resulting in the employee’s death.   

Caveat: A person will not be considered dependent unless the person:   

  • Is a member of the family of the deceased employee; or  
  • Bears to the deceased employee the relation of surviving spouse, lineal descendant, ancestor, or brother or sister. 

Notes for category 2 cases: 

  • It is within the discretion of the Industrial Commission to determine whether a claimant is dependent upon the decedent at the time of death. 
  • The Commission’s determination is final, unless a gross abuse of discretion is clearly indicated, or an unlawful procedure has been followed. 
  • It’s extremely difficult to undo the Commission’s dependency determination. 

Case Example 

An employee working for US Well Services, LLC, was injured in a motor vehicle accident while working. He died a few days later. 

About three months prior to the employee’s death, his daughter, her three children, and her significant other, moved out of their car (they had been evicted from their home) and in with the employee. The employee told his daughter that she could stay with him until she got back on her feet. 

While living with the employee, the employee paid for rent, utilities, and food.  

After her father died, the daughter sought death benefits, claiming she was dependent on her father at the time of his injury and death. 

In finding that the employee was not dependent, and thus not entitled to death benefits, the court in Adams v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, No. 21AP-587. (Ohio Ct. App. 01/17/23), pointed to the following: 

  • The employee did not intend to provide housing and financial assistance to his daughter indefinitely. Instead, it was a temporary arrangement. 
  • The daughter and her significant other earned enough income through employment and government assistance programs to support their family. 
  • The daughter and her significant other had been functioning without the employee's financial assistance up and until they moved in with decedent. 
  • The daughter had only lived with the employee for three months before his death. 
  • The daughter had no contact with the employee through nearly half her childhood (she had been removed by the state from the home).    

Finding that the daughter was not dependent on her father when he died, the appellate court effectively affirmed the Industrial Commission’s decision. 

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