Fitzgerald, J. Kavanagh, C. J., and Williams, Levin, and Coleman, JJ., concurred with Fitzgerald, J. Lindemer and Ryan, JJ., took no part in the decision of this case.
1. Workmen's Compensation -- Death Benefits -- Dependents -- Adoption of Child.
A natural child of a deceased employee is not a dependent and therefore not entitled to receive workmen's compensation death benefits when the child has been adopted by other parents prior to the date of the employee's injury and resulting death (MCL 418.321, 418.331; MSA 17.237, 17.237).
2. Workmen's Compensation -- Res Judicata.
The doctrine of res judicata is applicable to workmen's compensation proceedings; workmen's compensation awards represent an adjudication as to the condition of the injured workman conclusive of all matters adjudicable at the time the award is entered.
3. Workmen's Compensation -- Res Judicata -- Change of Status.
An award of workmen's compensation is not an adjudication as to the claimant's future condition and does not preclude subsequent modifications of the award upon a showing that the claimant's physical condition or status has changed.
4. Workmen's Compensation -- Dependents -- Res Judicata -- Change of Status.
A decision of a workmen's compensation hearing referee that claimants of a decedent-employee's death benefits were dependents of the decedent within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act because the claimants were children under the age of 16 years and conclusively presumed to be dependent at the time of injury became res judicata when the decision was final; the presumption of dependency ceased when the claimants reached the age of 16 years and the employer's obligation to pay death benefits terminated at that date in the absence of any other showing of claimants' dependency (MCL 418.331; MSA 17.237).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fitzgerald
James Theodore, Jr., suffered a work-related injury in 1969 and died later that year. His employer, Packing Materials, Inc., and its workmen's compensation insurance carrier, American Mutual Liability Insurance Co., defendants in this matter, admit liability, the only question being to whom death benefits should be paid. The decedent had five children, two of whom were adopted by others during his life. A workmen's compensation hearing referee ruled in January, 1971, that the two adopted children were dependents of the decedent and entitled to share equally in the death benefits with the decedent's widow and other children. The decision became final after an appeal by the mother of two of his children was withdrawn. In September, 1971, the adopted children had reached the ages of 17 and 16, and the defendants filed a petition seeking to terminate benefits payable to them. The original order was modified to reflect the fact that one of the adopted children had graduated from high school in 1972 and was presumed to be self-supporting as of December 12, 1972, and benefits for the other adopted child were continued. The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board affirmed and the Court of Appeals, Lesinski, P. J., and V. J. Brennan and Bashara, JJ., denied leave to appeal (Docket No. 18707). Defendants appeal. Held:
1. The conclusive presumption of dependency of a child under the age of 16 in the Workmen's Compensation Act is premised upon the legal obligation of the parent to provide support for the child. The legal relationship of parent and child is terminated when a child is adopted by other parents prior to an injury which results in the death of the child's natural parent, and the conclusive presumption of the child's dependency upon the deceased employee parent terminates.
2. The hearing referee's finding that the two adopted children were conclusively presumed to be dependents of their deceased natural father at the time of the injury within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act was a decision which became final and was, therefore, res judicata. The decision is, however, subject to subsequent modification or termination where the presumption can no longer be supported.
3. Defendants were obligated to pay death benefits to each adopted child only from the date of the decedent's death until the child reached the age of 16, when the conclusive presumption of dependency under the ...