The novel question presented by this appeal is whether a person who stood in loco parentis to a deceased worker is a "parent" qualified for Workmen's Compensation death benefits within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:15-13(f).
The relevant facts are not in dispute. When Rayfield Scott (the deceased) was an infant he was taken in by his mother's cousin, the petitioner. She raised him through childhood and thereafter he lived with her until his death at age 34. Decedent always referred to petitioner as mother and he used the name Miles until two or three years before his death. At that time he changed his name to Scott, which apparently was the name of his natural father.
Although petitioner was neither the natural nor adoptive mother of the deceased, as the judge of compensation noted, there existed a close relationship quite similar to that of parent and child. The judge concluded, however, that an award of benefits to petitioner would improperly extend the statutory definition of dependents. Accordingly, he granted
respondent's motion to dismiss the petition.*fn1 Despite our own sympathy with petitioner, we are constrained to affirm the dismissal.
In relevant part, N.J.S.A. 34:15-13(f) provides:
The term "dependents" shall apply to and include any or all of the following who are dependent upon the deceased at the time of accident or the occurrence of occupational disease, or at the time of death, namely: Husband, wife, parent, stepparents, grandparents, children, stepchildren, grandchildren, child in esse, posthumous child, illegitimate children, brothers, sisters, half brothers, half sisters, niece, nephew. Legally adopted children shall, in every particular, be considered as natural children.
We are well aware of the "liberal trend which is the hallmark of our courts in the area of workmen's compensation," and that the "reason and spirit of the Act rather than its letter must prevail." Parkinson v. J & S Tool Co. , 64 N.J. 159, 167-168 (1974); Panzino v. Continental Can Co. , 71 N.J. 298 (1976). But while the act is to be construed to bring as many cases as possible within its coverage, Dawson v. Hatfield Wire & Cable Co. , 59 N.J. 190, 197 (1971), the qualifications for compensation have been determined by the Legislature and it is not within the judicial province to extend benefits beyond the limits of the statute. Jones v. N.J. Manufacturers Cas. Ins. Co. , 77 N.J. Super. 147, 152 (App. Div. 1962), aff'd o.b. 39 N.J. 555 (1963).
We do not view the liberal trend in workmen's compensation cases as vitiating the requirement that death benefits "are to be determined by a finding that the person claiming the benefits is not only an actual dependent of the deceased worker but also bears to the worker one of the specified statutory enumerated relationships." Stellmah v. Hunterdon
Coop. G.L.F. Service, Inc. , 47 N.J. 163, 170 (1966). Assuming actual dependency in the present case, we are unable to conclude that petitioner falls within any of the statutory relationships and specifically that of "parent."
The term "parent" is not defined in the act but we believe the plain wording of N.J.S.A. 34:15-13(f) prevents the inclusion of a person standing in loco parentis within that class. If the word "parent" were intended to be broad enough to include a de facto parent, the Legislature would not have found it necessary to specify stepparents as an additional class of dependents. Stepparents would have been considered within the term parent along with those standing in loco parentis to the deceased worker. So, too, we find it significant that the Legislature specified that "legally adopted children" shall be ...