The court tackled the issue of first impression in James Kohlmeyer v. Second Injury Fund, No. 93A02-0711-EX-1000, in which James Kohlmeyer argued Social Security benefits he received after becoming permanently totally disabled as a result of a work accident should count toward the threshold dictated under Indiana Code Section 22-3-3-13(h)(2).
In order to become eligible for Second Injury Fund benefits, the applicant has to exhaust his or her benefits, which in Kohlmeyer's case was a total of $154,665. The worker's compensation benefits he received only totaled $136,381.82; however, if he factored in the nearly $30,000 he received in Social Security benefits, he would reach the threshold amount.
The Indiana Court of Appeals admits Kohlmeyer makes a plausible argument in favor of counting Social Security benefits - he argued the terms "benefits" and "compensation" in the Indiana Worker's Compensation Act are separate terms with separate meanings. He claimed that because the act specifies he is entitled to "compensation" from the Second Injury Fund, that term must mean worker's compensation funds, and that "benefits" include those funds and Social Security benefits.
Because "compensation" and "benefits" aren't defined in the act, the judges determined that when viewed as a whole, those two terms used in Section 22-3-3-13(h) are synonyms with respect to this issue, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.
"We conclude instead that the best interpretation of the Act is that it addresses only Worker's Compensation benefits and compensation. In so doing, we necessarily reject Kohlmeyer's claim that the Act neglects to mention Social Security benefits because the statute was written long ago and no one made this argument before," he wrote.
The opinion also addresses the argument Kohlmeyer made that he is entitled to payments from the Second Injury Fund. In the agreement between Kohlmeyer and his employer, it stated he was able to apply for Second Injury Fund benefits, but not that he was entitled to them. When he applied, he didn't meet the threshold requirements, so he was denied, the judge wrote.