Workers’ Comp Widow’s Issue Going to W.Va. Supreme Court

The West Virginia Supreme Court will decide next month whether the state’s workers’ compensation insurer can cut off benefits to widows and widowers when their deceased spouses would have reached retirement age.

The justices last week ordered Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline to appear on May 10 to explain why she should not be required to approve payments to survivors whose spouses died in workplace accidents or from workplace diseases like black lung and asbestosis.

Some widows won benefits from favorable rulings from the Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges. But officials at the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which has since become BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co., routinely appealed those decisions to the Board of Review.

They also refused to pay any benefits to widows during the appeal process. The Board of Review, whose decisions can ultimately be appealed to the Supreme Court, set May 24 as the date it would begin hearing appeals from widows and widowers.

The court’s decision to hear widows’ cases on May 10 could result in a quicker resolution of the controversy.

Last week, the Supreme Court also rejected a motion in which Attorney General Darrell McGraw asked to become a party in the case.

Workers’ Comp adopted a policy in 2004 that allowed it to refuse to pay benefits to survivors after their deceased spouses would have reached 70. If benefits were awarded before 2003, those benefits could be cut off after the deceased spouses would have reached 65.

The policy was never approved either by the Performance Council, which then oversaw Workers’ Compensation, or by the Legislature.