Enhanced Workers’ Compensation Benefits Not Owed from Defunct Employer

Supreme Court of Missouri, February 18, 2020

MISSOURI – The claimants filed a workers’ compensation claim for their late father, Vincent Hegger, who developed  mesothelioma. Hegger worked for Valley Farm from 1968 until 1984. His work included service with machinery where he encountered asbestos gaskets and asbestos insulation. Valley Farm had workers’ compensation coverage but ceased operations in 1998.

His children sought enhanced benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. The administrative law judge denied that claim and the children appealed. On appeal, the court reviewed the statute in question. The workers’ compensation laws, amended in 2013, allowed an employer to elect mesothelioma liability. In those instances, a claimant may receive an additional amount of 300 percent of the state’s average weekly wage. However, in this matter, the court quickly concluded that Valley Farm could not have accepted or elected enhanced liability. The option to elect enhanced liability did not take effect until 16 years after the company ceased operations. The claimants argued that a statutory section allowed Valley Farm to accept enhanced liability when insuring their liability. Essentially, the claimants took the position that Valley Farm sought enhanced liability by virtue of having a workers’ compensation policy. The court disagreed and stated that an employer need take an affirmative action to assert the enhanced liability. Here, a defunct company could not have done so. Moreover, the case upon which the claimants relied was misplaced because the employer in that matter had expressly contemplated the enhanced liability. Accordingly, the commission did not error in its finding.

Read the case decision here.