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October 4, 1996


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No. 94-MR-95. Honorable Ronald Eckiss, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Colwell delivered the opinion of the court: McCULLOUGH, P.j., and Rakowski and Holdridge, JJ., concur. Justice Rarick, dissenting:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colwell

The Honorable Justice COLWELL delivered the opinion of the court:

Employer, Freeman United Coal Mining Co. (Freeman), appeals the circuit court's reversal of the Industrial Commission's determination that the claimant, Ralph Giles, is permanently partially disabled to the extent of five percent of the man-as-a-whole due to coal worker's pneumoconiosis (CWP). Originally, on the claimant's appeal, the circuit court remanded to the Commission for reconsideration of the claimant's diminished earning capacity in light of Zeigler Coal Co. and Monterey Coal Co. Zeigler Coal Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 237 Ill. App. 3d 213, 178 Ill. Dec. 225, 604 N.E.2d 481 (1992); Monterey Coal Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 241 Ill. App. 3d 386, 182 Ill. Dec. 36, 609 N.E.2d 339 (1992). On remand, the Commission reaffirmed its decision, with one commissioner dissenting. The dissenting commissioner concluded that the claimant was 100% permanently and totally disabled. The circuit court reversed the Commission and adopted the dissenting commissioner's interpretation, finding the claimant 100% permanently and totally disabled.

Freeman brings two contentions on appeal: (1) the circuit court erred in remanding to the Commission because it failed to find that the original decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence (and Freeman contends that even if this court concludes such a finding was implied in the circuit court's remand order, it was erroneous); and (2) the circuit court "exceeded its authority" in reversing the Commission's reaffirmation of the five-percent figure and in finding that the claimant is 100% permanently and totally disabled.

Before we begin our analysis of the issues on appeal, however, we first must resolve Freeman's motion to dismiss filed during the pendency of this appeal. The motion was made upon proof that the claimant died in August 1995. Freeman contends that no one qualifies under the terms of section 8(h) of the Workers' Compensation Act to be substituted as a party. 820 ILCS 305/8(h) (West 1992). We granted leave for the claimant's estate to respond to the motion to dismiss and ordered the estate's motion to substitute the decedent's administrator (his daughter, Jo Lynn Carter) taken with the case.

As the employer points out, the claimant leaves only two known heirs, Carter and a son, Michael Giles. Both are above the age of majority, and no suggestion is made that either was in any manner dependent on the claimant at the time of his death. Consequently, the question is presented as to whether section 8(h), when read in conjunction with section 7(g) (820 ILCS 305/7(g) (West 1992)), allows only dependent children to succeed to the claimant's benefits. Thus, we are asked to determine what portion, if any, of the award is owed to the decedent's estate.

As the administrator notes in her response to the employer's motion to dismiss, our supreme court found that benefits accrued prior to a claimant's death are assets of the estate, as any other debt. Republic Steel Corp. v. Industrial Comm'n, 26 Ill. 2d 32, 185 N.E.2d 877 (1962). However, subsequent to that case, the legislature amended the Workers' Compensation Act to provide that both accrued and unaccrued benefits are to be paid in accordance with the provisions of section 7(g) of the Act. 820 ILCS 305/8(h), 7(g) (West 1992). Section 8(h) provides:

"In case death occurs from any cause before the total compensation to which the employee would have been entitled has been paid, then in case the employee leaves any widow, widower, child, parent (or any grandchild, grandparent or other lineal heir or any collateral heir dependent at the time of the [injury] upon the earnings of the employee to the extent of 50% or more of total dependency) such compensation shall be paid to the beneficiaries of the deceased employee and distributed as provided in paragraph (g) of Section 7." 820 ILCS 305/8(h) (West 1992).

Section 7(g) provides for payment to be made in installments.

The claimant's administrator argues that section 8(h) is inapplicable because all of the amount awarded had accrued and therefore was "vested" before the claimant's death. However, we note that by its plain language, section 8(h) is applicable any time that a portion of the award remains to be paid. Thus we turn to the second part of the claimant's argument, that because the legislature does not define the term "child" in section 8(h) as a minor or dependent, we should find that even adult children, such as the administrator and her brother, are entitled to collect the awarded benefits. The employer argues that we should construe the term child in section 8(h) as it is defined in section 7, which states that only dependent children are entitled to collect deceased claimants' awards. 820 ILCS 305/7, 8(h) (West 1992).

The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Kraft, Inc. v. Edgar, 138 Ill. 2d 178, 189, 149 Ill. Dec. 286, 561 N.E.2d 656 (1990). Although the language that the legislature actually used is our starting point in divining this intent, the words must receive a sensible construction "even though such construction qualifies the universality of its language." In re Illinois Bell Switching Station Litigation, 161 Ill. 2d 233, 246, 204 Ill. Dec. 216, 641 N.E.2d 440 (1994). The statute should be evaluated as a whole, with each provision being construed in connection with every other section. Bonaguro v. County Officers Electoral Board, 158 Ill. 2d 391, 397, 199 Ill. Dec. 659, 634 N.E.2d 712 (1994). A court should avoid a construction which renders part of the statute superfluous or meaningless. Bonaguro, 158 Ill. 2d at 397. Specific language controls over more general language ( People v. Singleton, 103 Ill. 2d 339, 345, 82 Ill. Dec. 666, 469 N.E.2d 200 (1984)), and the enumeration of one thing in a statute implies the exclusion of all others. Baker v. Miller, 159 Ill. 2d 249, 260, 201 Ill. Dec. 119, 636 N.E.2d 551 (1994). In ascertaining the intent of the legislature, a court may consider the reason and necessity of the law, the evils to be remedied, and the objects to be obtained. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Yapejian, 152 Ill. 2d 533, 541, 178 Ill. Dec. 745, 605 N.E.2d 539 (1992). All portions of the Workers' Compensation Act must be read as a whole and in such a manner as to give them the practical and liberal interpretation intended by the legislature. Vaught v. Industrial Comm'n, 52 Ill. 2d 158, 165, 287 N.E.2d 701 (1972).

Applying these principles to this case, we find that the legislature did in fact require in section 7 that a person qualified to succeed to a deceased claimant's benefits in the capacity of "child" be a dependent. As section 8(h) expressly requires that it be construed according to the provisions of section 7, and because we are required to read the statute as a whole, we must find that the legislature intended that dependent children succeed to both accrued and unaccrued benefits, but awards to claimants leaving no dependents are abated at the claimant's death. Thus, we find that the legislature in effect overruled Republic Steel to the extent that it provides that accrued benefits are de facto a part of the deceased claimant's estate. In fact, in Republic Steel, the administrator was allowed to succeed to the benefits expressly for the benefit of the decedent's dependents. Republic Steel is silent as to whether the accrued benefits would have been considered a part of the decedent's estate if he had left no dependents. Republic Steel, 26 Ill. 2d 32, 185 N.E.2d 877.

This is in accord with the remaining provisions of section 7, which provide death benefits only to dependents. We find that it would be illogical for the legislature to have provided that only dependents of employees who die as a result of a work-related accident may make a claim for death benefits, but that nondependent heirs of employees who die of unrelated causes may collect an accrued award. Thus, we find that the legislature intended that only dependents may ...

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