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Amaya v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office.

2022 COA 131. No. 22CA0467. Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits—Multiple Dependents—Apportionment—Lump Sum Compensation—Proportionate Share.

November 10, 2022

Decedent suffered a fatal work injury. An administrative law judge (ALJ) apportioned his workers’ compensation death benefits between his wife (25%) and his minor child (75%) under CRS § 8-42-121. The employer and the carrier (collectively, respondents) filed a general fatal admission of liability admitting to weekly death benefits of $255.64 to wife and $766.92 to the minor child. Wife then requested a lump-sum disbursement of her death benefits under CRS § 8-43-406(3) equating to 50% of the maximum lump sum allowed by statute. The Division of Workers’ Compensation director (Director) granted her request, but an Industrial Claim Appeals Office panel (Panel) concluded that wife is entitled to only 25% of the maximum lump-sum amount, and it set aside the Director’s order.

On appeal, as initial matter, wife argued that the Director’s order is not subject to review. However, the order is reviewable because respondents asserted that the Director exceeded his authority by awarding wife 50% of the lump sum when the ALJ only apportioned 25% of the death benefits to her.

On the merits, wife argued that the Panel conflated the ALJ’s authority to apportion benefits under CRS § 8-42-121 with the Director’s authority to apportion lump-sum disbursements under CRS § 8-43-406(3). She maintained that the Director has authority to determine a dependent’s proportionate share of death benefits independent of the apportionment of death benefits under CRS § 8-42-121 and that a proportionate share is determined by the number of dependents when a lump sum is requested. When one of multiple dependents elects to receive a lump-sum payment, that dependent may receive a “proportionate share” of the maximum lump sum allowed by CRS § 8-43-406(3). However, CRS §§ 8-42-121 and 8-43-406(3) are part of the same statutory scheme, and construing them together, a dependent may not request a lump sum under CRS § 8-43-406(3) until the benefits have first been apportioned under CRS § 8-42-121. Therefore, wife is only entitled to receive 25% of the maximum lump sum available. Accordingly, the Panel did not err.

Wife also contended that the Division’s interpretation of the phrase “proportionate share” is entitled to deference. Here, the Division interpreted this phrase to mean dividing the available lump sum by the number of dependents. For the reasons stated above, this interpretation is not reasonable and is thus not entitled to deference.

Wife further argued that the Panel failed to consider that in situations with multiple dependents, a dependent’s percentage share varies over time based on age, death, or remarriage; the dependent’s expected benefit over her lifetime; or the totality of the circumstances. But the legislature removed the Director’s discretion in determining a lump-sum award, so the only relevant factor is a dependent’s proportionate share when the lump sum is requested. Accordingly, the Panel did not err.

The order was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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