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The Claimant/Appellant, Barry Mullins, was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in 2010 and passed away in 2021. Claimant was awarded a disability pension as a result. Claimant’s widow, Melissa Mullins, filed a Petition with the Industrial Accident Board on April 22, 2022, seeking workers’ compensation survivor benefits, based upon the City of Wilmington Pension Code. An Industrial Accident Board Hearing took place on December 8, 2022, where Employer argued benefits paid through the City of Wilmington Pension Code did not constitute or establish liability for Workers’ Compensation benefits relating to an occupational disease. The Board ultimately found the Claimant had failed to prove entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits in relation to his death from ocular melanoma.
The Claimant then appealed this Decision to the Superior Court. It was the Claimant’s position that the City “acknowledged” the claimant’s injury by paying a disability pension to the Claimant’s widow, claiming the presumption of a work-related condition was unrebutted as a result. It was the Employer’s position that the cause of the Claimant’s condition was not related to his employment with the City. The Employer further argued that payment to the Claimant’s widow through the Pension Code is independent from any payment under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The Superior Court agreed with the Board Decision. Establishing causation of a work-related occupational disease requires evidence “the employer’s working conditions produced the ailment as a natural incident of the employee’s occupation in such a manner as to attach to that occupation a hazard distinct from and greater than the hazard attending employment in general.” The Superior Court ruled payments under the Pension Code do not in turn make the City liable for causation under the Workers’ Compensation Act, as a finding of causation requires claimants to meet the burden established in the Act. The Court noted this was consistent with comments made in a prior Board Decision (Armstead v. City of Wilmington, IAB No. 1485578, May 6, 2021), in which the Board noted the standard under the Pension Code does not translate to the causation standard in the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Should you have any questions regarding this decision, please contact Nick Bittner or any other attorney in our Workers’ Compensation Department.
BARRY MULLINS v. CITY OF WILMINGTON, N23A-01-004 CLS (August 18, 2023).