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Appeals court finds for insurer in worker’s comp case where victim’s mother died

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The mother of an injured worker whose estate claims she died due to emotional distress caused by an insurer’s handling of her son’s case cannot directly sue the insurer before exhausting the regulatory process, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

In Amerisafe Risk Services, Inc., and Leerae Riggs v. The Estate of Hazel D. Wadsack, deceased, by Ronald J. Wadsack as Personal Rep., and Ronald J. Wadsack, individually, 88A01-1204-CT-144, the trial court without explanation denied Amerisafe’s motion to dismiss. The estate claimed that Hazel Wadsack died as a result of emotional distress at the handling of her son’s worker’s compensation claim. Matthew Wadsack had been severely shocked and burned while working for Mills Tree Service and was in a coma for some time.

“The Wadsacks argue that the Worker’s Compensation Board … does not have jurisdiction because their claims are not on behalf of Matthew, or based directly on his injuries, but instead are based on the handling of Matthew’s claims. We disagree,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote for the unanimous panel.

The judges ruled that I.C. 22-3-2-6.2 extends to personal representatives and next of kin. “While the Wadsacks may not have a claim for benefits pending themselves, the Board nonetheless has jurisdiction over their suit, which is a derivative of Matthew’s claim for benefits,” Robb wrote.

The court also rejected the Wadsacks’ argument that a requirement to have their case heard by the board deprived them of the open courts provision of articles 1 and 12 of the Indiana Constitution. It noted the Wadsacks would have access to court to challenge an adverse ruling from the Worker’s Compensation Board, and the panel also agreed with Amerisafe that direct suits against third-party insurers are generally not allowed in Indiana.

 

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