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Stenz v. The Industrial Commission of Arizona

Supreme Court of Arizona

July 20, 2015

CHARLES W. STENZ, DECEASED, Petitioner Employee,
v.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION OF ARIZONA, Respondent, ELIZABETH STENZ, WIDOW, Petitioner, CITY OF TUCSON, Respondent Employer, PINNACLE RISK MANAGEMENT SERVICES, Respondent Insurer

Appeal from the Industrial Commission of Arizona. The Honorable Gary M. Israel, Administrative Law Judge. No. 20051100192. Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division Two, 236 Ariz. 104, 336 P.3d 737 (App. 2014) .

Appeal from the Industrial Commission of Arizona, AWARD SET ASIDE. Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division Two, VACATED.

M. Ted Moeller (argued), Tucson, and Andrew J. Petersen, Tucson, Attorneys for City of Tucson and Pinnacle Risk Management Services.

J. Patrick Butler (argued), Tretschok, McNamara & Miller, P.C., Tucson, Attorneys for Elizabeth Stenz, widow of Charles W. Stenz.

James B. Stabler, Phoenix, Attorney for Amicus Curiae CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company.

CHIEF JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER and JUSTICES BERCH and TIMMER joined, and BRUTINEL concurred.

OPINION

Page 362

BALES, CHIEF JUSTICE.

[¶1] Although Arizona's Workers' Compensation Act does not mandate the payment of interest on benefits not timely paid, this Court has held that the general interest statute, A.R.S. § 44-1201, applies to workers' compensation awards. Today we hold that death benefits under A.R.S. § 23-1046 are liquidated, and interest on them accrues from the time a carrier receives notice that a survivor has filed a claim with the Industrial Commission pursuant to A.R.S. § 23-1061(A).

I.

[¶2] In 2005, Charles Stenz suffered an on-the-job injury for which he filed a claim with his employer's insurance carrier, Pinnacle Risk Management. Pinnacle accepted the claim and paid the benefits. In 2009, Stenz died. Alleging that his death resulted partly from the 2005 injury, Stenz's widow filed a claim for death benefits under A.R.S. § 23-1061(A). The claim was filed with the Industrial Commission on September 21, 2009. Pinnacle received notice of the claim on October 21, 2009.

[¶3] One week later, Pinnacle denied the claim. An Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) upheld the denial, but the court of appeals set aside that award. After a new hearing, the ALJ issued an award granting death benefits. In 2013, nearly four years after Mrs. Stenz filed her claim, the ALJ entered a final order affirming the award. Pinnacle paid the benefits dating back to Stenz's death, but did not pay interest on the unpaid benefits.

[¶4] Mrs. Stenz requested a hearing pursuant to A.R.S. § 23-1061(J), alleging that she was owed interest on unpaid death benefits from the time the claim was originally filed until the award was ultimately paid. The ALJ ruled that no interest was owed on the death benefit before the award became final in 2013. The court of appeals set this ruling aside, concluding that the claim was liquidated as of the date ...


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