Huge workers comp award for Ohio widow might be an ‘outlier’ case

Business Insurance

An award of more than 23 years of workers compensation benefits to the widow of an Ohio demolition worker who died only hours after his workplace injury has lawyers and employers weighing the Ohio appellate court ruling's fallout.

The award compensated the worker's widow for the loss of his limbs, sight and hearing in the period before his death, according to the ruling.

One attorney called the case an “outlier” that is unlikely to set a precedent for how loss-of-use benefits are awarded in Ohio, since the appellate court cited previous case law from the Ohio Supreme Court.

“This really is an infrequent or rare situation because it only involves death claims in Ohio,” said Philip Fulton of the Philip J. Fulton Law Office in Columbus, Ohio, who was not involved in the lawsuit. “Over the last couple years on average, we only had about 100 (death claims) a year, and not all of them occur like this.”

However, Dave McCarty, director and chairman of the workers comp practice at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter law firm in Columbus, Ohio, said the appellate ruling potentially could allow for large comp benefit awards in future Ohio cases involving catastrophic work injuries.

Dhimitraq Taluri, 63, worked for Lakewood, Ohio-based wrecking and demolition firm Arberia L.L.C. and died in October 2011 after he reportedly fell 30 feet through a roof while performing demolition work, court records show. Mr. Taluri initially survived the fall with severe injuries to his brain and skull, but he died 41/2 hours later at a nearby hospital.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation granted workers comp death benefits to Mr. Taluri's widow, Doloreza. Ms. Taluri later filed a motion seeking an award for loss of use of Mr. Taluri's arms, legs, eyes and ears caused by his fall in the hours prior to his death.

A doctor who reviewed Mr. Taluri's medical records testified to the Ohio workers comp bureau that Mr. Taluri had lost use of the body parts mentioned in Ms. Taluri's claim for a brief period before his death, according to court filings. Based on that testimony, a panel of the workers comp bureau awarded 1,225 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits, or $959,175, to Ms. Taluri for her husband's injuries.

The award included 250 weeks for the loss of both eyes, 125 weeks for the loss of both ears, 400 weeks for the loss of his legs and 450 weeks for the loss of his arms.

Arberia appealed, arguing in part that Ohio law would limit the award for the loss of Mr. Taluri's limbs, sight and hearing to one week of benefits since he only lived for a few hours after his work accident, records show.

But a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals' 10th District in Columbus unanimously overruled Arberia's objections and upheld the benefits award to Ms. Taluri on Dec. 4.

The court also found that, under Ohio case law, partial disability benefit awards are based on the life expectancy of a claimant's surviving spouse, dependent children and other dependents, not on the life span of the deceased claimant.

The court's ruling was based on a 2006 Ohio Supreme Court decision in State ex rel. Moorehead v. Industrial Commission of Ohio et al. In that decision, the high court found that a man who died 90 minutes after a workplace fall was a quadriplegic for the brief period after his accident. Therefore, the court found that his widow was due workers comp death benefits and loss-of-use benefits for her husband's short-term paralysis.

“It is irrelevant how many hours Taluri survived to collect an award because (Ohio law) only requires that he would have been entitled to an award before he died,” the ruling said. “The medical evidence shows that Taluri was entitled to 1,225 weeks of scheduled loss award, which the (workers comp bureau) could commute to a lump-sum payment.”

Mr. McCarty said the Arberia decision is “not surprising” considering the court's previous decision in Moorehead.