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Singleton v. Consolidated Freightways Corp.

Decided: March 5, 1974.

VIOLA SINGLETON, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
CONSOLIDATED FREIGHTWAYS CORP., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



For modification and remandment -- Acting Chief Justice Jacobs, Justices Hall, Sullivan, Pashman and Clifford and Judge Collester. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Collester, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned.

Collester

This is an appeal from a judgment awarding dependency benefits in a workmen's compensation heart death case.

Arthur Singleton, an employee of Consolidated Freightways, died of a heart attack on March 4, 1966. His surviving dependents were Viola Singleton, his widow, and Lorraine Singleton, a 10-year old mentally retarded daughter. Petitioner filed a claim petition for dependency benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Division of Workmen's Compensation found that the decedent's fatal heart attack arose out of and in the course of his employment and entered a judgment awarding the following death benefits: (1) to the widow and minor child concurrently 350 weeks of compensation at $40 per week, a total sum of $14,000, (2) to Lorraine Singleton until she attains the age of 18 years, 25-5/7 weeks of compensation at $40 per week, a total amount of $1,028.57, and (3) to Lorraine Singleton, as a mentally retarded dependent child, an additional 350 weeks of compensation at $40 per week, the payments to commence when she attains the age of 18 years, a total amount of $14,000. Both the County Court and the Appellate Division affirmed in unreported opinions. We granted the respondent-employer's petition for certification. 64 N.J. 154 (1973).

The sole issue on this appeal concerns N.J.S.A. 34:15-13 which provides for workmen's compensation death benefits. The employer contends that subsection (j) of the statute does not authorize the additional award of 350 weeks of compensation to Lorraine Singleton when she attains the age of 18 years.

N.J.S.A. 34:15-13,*fn1 in parts here pertinent, reads as follows:

Except as hereinafter provided, in case of death, compensation shall be computed, but not distributed, on the following basis:

a. For 1 dependent, 35% of wages.

b. For 2 dependents, 40% of wages.

Dependents defined. g. The term "dependents" shall apply to and include any or all of the following who are dependent upon the deceased at the time of the accident or the occurrence of occupational disease, or at the time of death, namely; * * * wife * * * children * * * Dependency shall be conclusively presumed as to the decedent's widow and natural children under 18 years of age who were actually a part of the decedent's household at the time of his death. Every provision of this article applying to one class shall be equally applicable to the other.

Period of Dependency. j. In computing compensation to those named in this section, except husband, wife, parents and stepparents, only those under eighteen or over 40 years of age shall be included and then only for that period in which they are under 18 or over 40; provided, however, that payments to such physically or mentally deficient persons as are for such reason dependent shall be made during the full compensation period of 350 weeks.

Maximum and minimum compensation. k. The maximum compensation in case of death shall be $40.00 per week * * *. This compensation shall be paid during 350 weeks and if at the expiration of 350 weeks there shall be 1 or more dependents under 18 years of age compensation shall be continued for such dependents until they reach 18 years of age at the schedule provided under paragraphs "a" to "f" of this section. (Emphasis added)

The judge of compensation held the statute must be given a liberal construction and that the language of subsection (j) indicated the Legislature intended to provide an additional 350 weeks of compensation for a mentally retarded child. The employer alleges that the compensation ...


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