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Cureton v. Joma Plumbing & Heating Co.

Decided: October 9, 1962.

VERA CURETON, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN ROBINSON, DECEASED, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
JOMA PLUMBING & HEATING CO., RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT



For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Proctor, J.

Proctor

This is a workmen's compensation case. John Robinson, the original petitioner, met with a compensable accident on May 30, 1959, while in the employ of the respondent. He received temporary disability payments from the respondent until June 29, 1959, when he returned to work. On July 28, 1959 Robinson filed a claim petition for permanent disability compensation. The respondent filed an answer and the matter was pretried in the Workmen's Compensation Division on November 23, 1959.

The pretrial memorandum admitted all jurisdictional elements and limited the issues to the nature and extent of the disability. The memorandum included the reports of both Robinson's and the respondent's medical examiners, who evaluated Robinson's partial permanent disability at 10% and 2 1/2% respectively.

On January 4, 1960, before the matter was tried in the Workmen's Compensation Division, Robinson died intestate from a cause unrelated to his compensable injury. He left no statutory dependents (N.J.S.A. 34:15-13(g)) and had not received any payments on account of his permanent disability.

Robinson's only surviving next of kin were two sisters, one of whom, Vera Cureton, is the present petitioner. On June 24, 1960 she filed an "Affidavit of Next of Kin in Lieu of Administration Where Real and Personal Estate Does Not Exceed $1,500" with the Surrogate of Essex County, pursuant to N.J.S. 3A:6-6. The affidavit stated that Robinson's estate consisted of the following asset: "Claim for Workmen's Compensation in the sum of $400." With the filing of the consent of the other sister, Vera Cureton became entitled to receive the personal assets of the decedent "without administration or entering into a bond." N.J.S. 3A:6-6.

Thereafter, she was substituted in this action as the party petitioner.

The petitioner sought to recover those payments for permanent disability which had accrued, but had not been paid, to Robinson from the end of the period for temporary disability payments to the date of his death. In addition, she sought the statutory funeral allowance (N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(e)) of up to $400 from the remaining amount due after his death.

The Workmen's Compensation Division dismissed the petition on the ground that the cause of action abated upon the death of Robinson with no surviving dependents. The Essex County Court affirmed.

On petitioner's appeal to the Appellate Division, the court held that the claim for compensation payments abated upon the death of Robinson without statutory dependents, but that the petitioner was entitled to an allowance for funeral expenses pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(e). Since the respondent conceded Robinson's permanent disability was 2 1/2% of total, and therefore the full award for compensation would exceed the statutory maximum of $400 for funeral expenses, the matter was remanded to the Division for entry of judgment for the petitioner in that amount. 71 N.J. Super. 249 (1962). The petitioner sought certification, which we granted. 37 N.J. 89 (1962).

On this appeal, the petitioner urges that, as personal representative of the decedent Robinson, she is entitled to have the Workmen's Compensation Division enter an appropriate award for Robinson's permanent disability. She contends that, in addition to a funeral allowance, any part of such award which represents compensation payments for the period up to Robinson's death should survive to her as his personal representative. The respondent does not contest the allowance for funeral expenses, but argues that the claim for compensation payments abated at the death of Robinson without surviving dependents. Respondent contends that the Workmen's Compensation Act is intended for the benefit

of employees and their dependents only, and payment of compensation to the personal representative of the deceased workman is beyond the scope of the act.

A major objective of our Workmen's Compensation Act is to provide an employee, when he suffers a work-connected injury, with a speedy and efficient remedy for loss of wages and the permanent impairment of his physical capabilities. It recognizes that many employees are without sufficient means to sustain themselves either during the period of temporary disability or thereafter if the injury results in a permanent lessening of physical capacity. Clearly, the legislative purpose is to create benefits which will issue promptly according to the schedules in the statute. After the seven-day waiting period, N.J.S.A. 34:15-14, payments are to be made for the duration of ...


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