Bellendir v. Kezer, 81SA288

Decision Date19 July 1982
Docket NumberNo. 81SA288,81SA288
Citation648 P.2d 645
PartiesJohn BELLENDIR, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. John KEZER, as Director of the Colorado Division of Labor; the ColoradoDepartment of Labor and Employment, and the Industrial Commission of Colorado,Defendants-Appellees.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

DeMoulin, Anderson, Campbell & Laugesen, William P. DeMoulin, Denver, for plaintiff-appellant.

J. D. MacFarlane, Atty. Gen., Richard F. Hennessey, Deputy Atty. Gen., Mary J. Mullarkey, Sol. Gen., Timothy R. Arnold, William J. Higgins, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for defendants-appellees.

DUBOFSKY, Justice.

The plaintiff, John Bellendir, appeals the Denver district court's summary judgment dismissal of his claim challenging the constitutionality of the Colorado Workmen's Compensation Act (Act), section 8-40-101, et seq., C.R.S.1973 and 1981 Supp. 1 The district court determined that the failure of the Act to provide for escalation in past workmen's compensation awards to keep pace with inflation does not violate the due process or equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. We affirm the district court's ruling.

The facts of this case are not in dispute. On February 26, 1963, the plaintiff sustained severe injuries resulting from an accident in the course of his employment. The State Compensation Insurance Fund, as the worker's compensation insurance carrier, filed a special admission of liability stipulating that the plaintiff was permanently and totally disabled. Under C.R.S.1963, 81-12-8 (now section 8-51-107, C.R.S.1973), the plaintiff was awarded lifetime disability payments of $40.25 per week.

In June 1980, the plaintiff filed a complaint in Denver district court alleging that, effective July 1, 1980, the maximum award for permanent total disability was $244.65 per week, that he continues to receive only $40.25 per week, and that the Act is unconstitutional because it fails to provide for an increase in his award commensurate with benefits available to claimants injured in subsequent years. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by the Division of Labor (Division), finding that the provisions of the Act and the benefits derived therefrom did not violate due process or equal protection.

At the time the plaintiff's disability benefits were determined, C.R.S.1963, 81-12-2 and 81-12-8 provided that, in cases of permanent total disability, the amount awarded would equal sixty-six and two-thirds percent of the average weekly wage of the injured employee, not to exceed a statutorily prescribed ceiling of $43.75 per week. After the plaintiff's award in 1963, the General Assembly periodically amended the statute to raise the ceiling. By 1973, the maximum was $84.00 per week. The General Assembly abandoned this system for 1974 and the years thereafter and delegated authority to the Director of the Division to determine a benefit ceiling. See Colo.Sess.Laws 1973, ch. 271, 81-7-19 at 943. The current provision, section 8-46-113, C.R.S.1973 (1981 Supp.), requires the Director to determine each year the "state average weekly wage," based on national statistics weighted so as to more accurately reflect wages in Colorado. Under the current statute, the ceiling for determining the maximum benefits payable to a person who is permanently and totally disabled is eighty percent of the state average weekly wage. Section 8-51-102, C.R.S.1973 (1981 Supp.).

Although the benefit ceiling has been raised since the time of the plaintiff's accident, the benefit level continues, in the first instance, to be determined in relation to the injured employee's actual weekly wage at the time of his accident. 2 Both at the time of the plaintiff's injury and at the present time, an employee who suffers a permanent total disability would receive sixty-six and two-thirds percent of his average weekly wage. Section 8-51-107, C.R.S.1973. The benefit ceiling is applicable only if weekly benefits calculated on the basis of two-thirds of the employee's actual weekly wage exceed the benefit ceiling.

The increases in the maximum award a totally disabled worker is eligible to receive are a recognition by the General Assembly that, as a result of inflation in the overall economy, workers' wages have risen, and the amount necessary to compensate an injured worker for loss of earning power has increased commensurately. In essence, the plaintiff's argument is that the absence in the Act of an escalation clause applicable to past awards has allowed inflation to so erode his award of compensation for permanent disability that it amounts to a deprivation of his statutory right to compensation in violation of due process. He also argues that because the current Act provides for a much larger award to a worker with the same job who suffers a permanently disabling injury, it violates equal protection.

Our past decisions have established that, in order to meet a challenge against the worker compensation scheme based on due process or equal protection, the state need only show that the challenged provision is rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. E.g., Ryan v. Centennial Race Track, Inc., 196 Colo. 30, 580 P.2d 794 (1978); Olson v. Public Service Company, 190 Colo. 512, 549 P.2d 780 (1976). Under the rational relation test, due process requires only that legislation or state action enacted under the police power be reasonable, and not arbitrary or capricious. U. S. Disposal Systems v. City of Northglenn, 193 Colo. 277, 567 P.2d 365 (1977). The same test applies to equal protection challenges. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 25 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969) In the area of economics and social welfare, a State does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect. If the classification has some "reasonable basis," it does not offend...

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    ...state purpose. San Antonio Indep. School Dist. v. Rodriquez, 411 U.S. 1, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973); Bellendir v. Kezer, 648 P.2d 645, 646 (Colo.1982). Here the legitimate purpose is a comprehensive and predictable scheme that speedily resolves questions of job-related injuries and......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Time, Equity and the Average Weekly Wage
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 23-8, August 1994
    • Invalid date
    ...change over the life of a claim. NOTES _____________________ Footnotes: 1. 856 P.2d 850 (Colo. 1993). 2. 867 P.2d 77 (Colo.App. 1993). 3. 648 P.2d 645 (Colo. 1982). 4. 870 P.2d 634 (Colo.App. 1994). 5. Id. at 636. 6. 690 P.2d 267 (Colo.App. 1984). 7. Id. at 269. 8. Coates, supra, note 1 at ......

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