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Stewart v. Industrial Com.

OPINION FILED AUGUST 7, 1985.

CARLA STEWART, APPELLANT,

v.

THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. (RYDER TRUCK LINES, INC., ET AL., APPELLEES).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. John P. Meyer, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LINDBERG DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The single issue to be resolved by this appeal is whether the two-year lump sum provisions found in section 7(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.7(a)) apply to a decedent's remarried widow where decedent left children surviving him who were entitled to workers' compensation benefits at the time of his widow's remarriage even though the children were from decedent's previous marriage. We conclude decedent's remarried widow is not affected by the lump sum remarriage provisions of section 7(a).

Dale K. Stewart died on July 31, 1981, as a result of injuries he sustained while working for Ryder Truck Lines, Inc. A claim was made under the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 48, par. 138.1 et seq.). The arbitrator found that the decedent was survived by a wife and four minor children born to the decedent and his former wife, Nancy K. Roberts. Those children were Dale Stewart, Jr., born December 28, 1964; Amanda Kay Stewart, born January 14, 1966; Charles Stewart, born January 1, 1967; and Eric Stewart, born July 25, 1970. The arbitration decision ordered the sum of $212.51 per week to be paid to Nancy Roberts for the use of the children. Decedent's widow, Carla J. Stewart, was to collect $53.13 per week until 20 years had passed or until $250,000 had been paid, whichever was greater. In the event of the widow's death, the children would continue receiving payments until the youngest child reached the age of 18, except as otherwise statutorily mandated in the case of enrollment in an accredited educational institution or the physical or mental incapacity of the child. This arbitration decision was entered on January 27, 1982.

On June 3, 1983, while there were children of the decedent surviving and those children were entitled to compensation benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act, Carla J. Stewart, widow of Dale K. Stewart, remarried. On June 28, 1984, the Industrial Commission addressed the issue of whether Carla J. Stewart's remarriage affected her right to receive weekly compensation benefits. The Commission found that: (1) the decedent's four children were in the custody of their natural mother, Nancy K. Roberts, who was divorced from the decedent on February 14, 1972; (2) the decedent married Carla J. Stewart on June 22, 1981, and no children were born of that marriage; (3) decedent died as a result of injuries he sustained in the course of employment; and (4) Carla J. Stewart remarried on June 3, 1983. The Commission concluded that Carla J. Stewart's remarriage did not affect her right to weekly benefits, since section 7(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.7(a)) provides only that if a widow remarries, where the decedent did not leave surviving any child or children, who, at the time of such remarriage, are entitled to compensation under the Workers' Compensation Act, the widow is to take a lump sum of two year's compensation benefits, and her rights are then extinguished. Finding that the decedent's children, although not children of Carla J. Stewart, were still entitled to compensation benefits as of June 3, 1983, the Commission determined that Carla J. Stewart's rights were not affected by this provision. The Commission, inter alia, ordered the sum of $212.51 per week to be paid to Nancy Roberts for the use of the children. Decedent's widow, Carla J. Stewart, was to collect $53.13 per week for six years from the date of decedent's death or until July 30, 1987, but commencing December 28, 1982. Thereafter she would receive $132.82 per week until July 25, 1988 (the 18th birthday of the youngest child), whereupon she would receive $265.64 per week until a total of $250,000 has been paid pursuant to section 7(a) of the Act.

Carla J. Stewart petitioned to the circuit court for a review of all questions of law and fact presented in the record and a review of the determination of the Industrial Commission, as entered on June 28, 1984. Specifically, Stewart claimed that certain errors appeared in the decision and needed to be corrected. The circuit court agreed with petitioner that there were errors in the Commission's decision, but the circuit court also found that Carla Stewart was entitled only to a lump sum payment equal to two year's compensation benefits. Carla Stewart filed a timely notice of appeal.

The trial court determined that Carla J. Stewart, widow of Dale K. Stewart, was no longer entitled to weekly compensation benefits due to her remarriage. This determination was based on the court's interpretation of section 7(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.7(a)). That statute, in part, provides:

"In the event of the remarriage of a widow or widower, where the decedent did not leave surviving any child or children who, at the time of such remarriage, are entitled to compensation benefits under this Act, the surviving spouse shall be paid a lump sum equal to two year's compensation benefits and all further rights of such widow or widower shall be extinguished."

The trial court specifically found that the Commission erred in its determination that section 7(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.7(a)) did not apply. The trial court reasoned that since the children who were entitled to receive compensation benefits on the date of Carla Stewart's remarriage were the children of the decedent by a former wife, and since Carla Stewart had no children by the decedent, she was entitled only to a lump sum payment equal to two year's compensation benefits. The trial court reversed the Commission's order which allowed petitioner to continue receiving weekly compensation benefits for 20 years or until $250,000 had been paid, whichever was greater. The Commission, in its order, had indicated that the result could be deemed anomalous, but it nevertheless believed that such a result was mandated by the clear language of the statute and by the Illinois Supreme Court's interpretation of that portion of the statute in Interlake, Inc. v. Industrial Com. (1983), 95 Ill.2d 181.

The portion of section 7(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.7) that deals with remarriage of the widow specifically states that the widow is limited to a lump sum payment where the decedent did not leave surviving any child or children who were at the time of the widow's remarriage entitled to receive compensation benefits. The statute also provides that for purposes of the Workers' Compensation Act, a "child" means any child whom the decedent left surviving, "including a posthumous child, a child legally adopted, a child whom the deceased employee was legally obligated to support or a child to whom the deceased employee stood in loco parentis." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.7(a).) The parties do not dispute that the four children of the decedent, Dale K. Stewart, qualify for compensation benefits under the provisions of this Act.

To be resolved is whether the trial court erred in finding that Carla J. Stewart was subject to the terms of the statute limiting her benefits upon remarriage to a lump sum payment equal to two year's compensation benefits. The plain language of the statute indicates that Carla Stewart was not subject to the limits of a lump sum payment, and the trial court erred in so finding.

• 1 The first canon of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent as expressed in the statute. If that intent can be ascertained from the language, that language will be given effect. (Hettermann v. Weingart (1983), 120 Ill. App.3d 683, 690, 458 N.E.2d 616, 621.) Despite the clear language of the statute indicating that the lump sum settlement provision applies only if the decedent has no surviving children still receiving benefits at the time the widow remarries, respondents suggest that the statute must be interpreted to mean that the lump sum settlement applies if there are no children of the marriage of the decedent and the widow who are receiving benefits at the time of remarriage. The respondents argue that to apply the statute in any other manner would be to defeat the legislative purpose and to grant the widow a windfall. It is obvious, according to respondents, that the purpose of the statute's limitation of a lump sum settlement upon remarriage is to restrict the compensation benefits of a widow who is not responsible for the care of decedent's minor children.

Respondent's argument that the purpose of the statute is to provide long-term benefits to a widow who remarries only if she is responsible for the care of decedent's children, and the children are still entitled to payments at the time of remarriage, is a persuasive one. Such an interpretation would mean that a widow who did not have responsibility for the care of decedent's children, or who had had no children with the decedent, or whose children by the decedent were no longer of an age to qualify to receive payments, would only be entitled to a lump sum settlement when she remarried. If, on the other hand, she was responsible for decedent's children, and they were still of an age which entitled them to compensation, she could continue receiving long-term benefits. Presumably this continued compensation would aid the widow and the children.

However, despite the appeal of respondents' argument, the plain language mandates that the widow be entitled to long-term benefits, up to 20 years or $250,000 regardless of whether the decedent's children are entrusted to her care, as long as those children are still receiving compensation benefits. As the Commission recognized, somewhat anomalous results could occur under this interpretation. For instance, a widow who does not have responsibility for the children can continue receiving weekly benefits just because the decedent's children are entitled to benefits at the time the widow remarries. On the other hand, a widow who has children by the decedent and who is still providing care for these children would be limited to a lump sum settlement when she remarries, if the children are no longer entitled to compensation at that time.

• 2 Nonetheless, the plain language of the statute must be given effect despite the possibility of an anomalous result, because there is no ambiguity in the statute and there is no express legislative purpose which indicates that to apply the statute as dictated by its plain language would be repugnant to the purpose of the statute. The appellate court cannot restrict or enlarge the plain meaning of an unambiguous statute. (People v. McCray (1983), 116 Ill. App.3d 24, 26, 451 N.E.2d 985, 987.) A court may not declare that the legislature did not mean what the plain language imports. (Hetterman v. Weingart (1983), 120 Ill. App.3d 683, 690, 458 N.E.2d 616, 621.) The court's only function, where the statutory language is unambiguous, is to enforce the law as enacted by the legislature. (Harvey Firemen's Association v. City of Harvey (1979), 75 Ill.2d 358, 363.) While respondents have attempted to ascertain the legislative intent and then interpret the ...


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