ANNAPOLIS – Chester Martin wanted his wife to stay at home, so much so that his company paid her a $38,000-a-year salary “with the understanding that she would do no work.”
Because Patricia Martin was “wholly dependent” on her husband, she was able to collect workers’ compensation benefits after he died in a business-related helicopter crash in 1992.
But when she asked the Workers Compensation Commission in 1995 to continue her benefits, after already receiving $45,000, her husband’s businesses and the insurance companies paying the benefits had had enough.
They challenged Mrs. Martin’s claim that she was still wholly dependent on her late husband.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed Wednesday, ruling that Mrs. Martin is now only “partially dependent” and, thus, not entitled to further workers’ compensation funds.
“His widow had gone back to work and was no longer dependent on him,” said W. John Vernon, an attorney for Great Distribution and Warehousing Inc. and the Niagara Fire and Marine Insurance Co.
Mrs. Martin was working as an $18,000-a-year receptionist for Giant Food in 1987 when her husband said he “wanted her to stay home.”
Martin, the owner of Sun Dun Inc. and president of Beverage Capital Corp. and Great Distribution and Warehousing Inc., put her on Sun Dun’s payroll “with the understanding that she would do no work” for $38,000 a year.
But after he died in the Jan. 14, 1992, crash, Patricia was out of a job.
Although Beverage Capital gave her $146,172, the balance of her husband’s salary for 1992, and another $88,231 for six months of 1993, she petitioned for workers’ compensation payments.
The commission determined that she had been “wholly dependent” on her husband when he died and said she was entitled to $45,000 of death benefits, retroactive to Jan. 15, 1992.
The businesses and insurers gave her the $45,000 in a single payment in February 1994. When they refused to give her any more, she appealed to the Workers Compensation Commission.
State law allows survivors to keep receiving benefits until they are no longer “wholly dependent.” Even though she had taken a job, she claimed she was not making enough to be considered independent.
The commission agreed in August 1995 and ordered continued benefit payments. That decision was upheld by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge.
But a three-judge panel of the appellate court ruled Wednesday that Mrs. Martin’s job made her only “partially dependent” and thus ineligible for continued benefits.
“She no longer received her salary for `doing nothing,’ and became an independent contractor making wages for performing real work,” the court said in it decision. “It is this change which establishes, as matter of law, that [Patricia] Martin should no longer be considered wholly dependent.”
Mrs. Martin, who had a net income of $34,892 between 1993 and 1995 from her job distributing Canada Dry products, called the ruling unfair.
“I make about $11,000 a year and I guess they think I can live on that,” she said.
She said she was surprised by the decision, since lower court judges always seemed sympathetic toward her situation, and hopes she can appeal.