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AGO 1952 No. 358 - July 29, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

APPLICATION OF CHAPTER 115, LAWS OF 1951, TO WIDOWS RECEIVING PENSIONS PRIOR TO THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE AMENDMENT

All of the rights to benefits of injured workmen, their dependents or beneficiaries under the Workmen's Compensation Act are governed by the schedule in effect at the time the injury occurred.

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                                                                    July 29, 1952

Honorable Reuben C. Youngquist
Prosecuting Attorney
Skagit County
Mount Vernon, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 358

Attention:  Mr. Charles F. Stafford, Jr.

Dear Sir:

            We are in receipt of your letter of July 14, 1952, wherein you request our opinion concerning a widow's rights under chapter 115, Laws of 1951, section 1 (b).

            We believe the question may be stated as follows:

            Where an individual becomes a widow prior to the effective date of the amendment to chapter 246, Laws of 1947, Rem. Supp. 1947, 7679 (a) (1), by chapter 115, Laws of 1951, RCW 51.32.050 (2), is such widow entitled to the increased award provided in the 1951 amendment?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            A widow's rights to benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act are based upon the schedule in effect at the time the injury occurs, and RCW 51.32.050(2), increasing the amount, applies only to those cases wherein the injuries occurred subsequent to the effective date of the act.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 246, Laws of 1947, section 1 (a) (1), Rem. Supp. 1947, 7679 (a) (1), provides in part as follows:

            "(1) If the workman leaves a widow or invalid widower, a monthly payment of seventy-five dollars ($75) shall be made throughout the life of the surviving spouse, to cease at the end of the month in which remarriage shall occur, * * *."

            Chapter 115, Laws of 1951, section 1 (b), RCW 51.32.050 (2) provides in part as follows:

            "(b) If the workman leaves a widow or invalid widower, a monthly payment of one hundred dollars shall be made throughout the life of the surviving spouse, to cease at the end of the month in which remarriage occurs, * * *."

            In 1947 the legislature increased the pension awards to seventy-five dollars ($75) and an appropriation was made for that purpose in order not to create a burden on industry through the exaction of higher premiums.

            In 1951 the legislature again increased pension awards to one hundred dollars ($100), but no provision was made to render the act retroactive.  It is a well-established rule that a statute is presumed to operate prospectively and will not be given a retroactive effect in the absence of language which clearly indicates such legislative intent.

            InBarlia v. Department of Labor & Industries, 23 Wn. (2d) 126, a widow was receiving a pension of $47.50 per month for herself and child, under a schedule of awards in effect when her husband was injured in 1938.  On May 9, 1943, the injured workman died, and his widow contended that she was entitled to the increased award of $65.00 per month under the provisions of Rem. Supp. 1941, 7679.  In the course of the opinion the court cited Lynch v. Department of Labor & Industries, 19 Wn. (2d) 802, and held that awards payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act are governed by the law in effect at the time the injury of the workman occurred.

            To the same effect isHoff v. Department of Labor & Industries, 23 Wn. (2d) 940, andYeck v. Department of Labor & Industries, 27 Wn. (2d) 92.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In chapter 246, Laws of 1947, section 2, Rem. Supp. 1947, 7679, it is provided:

            "The increased benefits and compensation authorized by this act shall not be applicable to a case of death, or injury or aggravation thereof, occurring prior to the effective date of this act."

            The above provision was carried over into RCW 51.32.170.

            In 1947 all awards in the compensation schedule were increased and such increases only applied to death, injury or aggravation occurring subsequent to June 11, 1947.

            In an opinion by this office dated August 28, 1951, we held that the Legislature did not, in the enactment of chapter 115, Laws of 1951, contemplate retroactive application of the new compensation schedule.  We adhere to that opinion.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

BERNARD A. JOHNSON
Assistant Attorney General

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