• A Claimant Who Fails to Establish a Valid Common Law Marriage to Decedent Is Not Entitled to Widow’s Benefits Under §307 (3).
  • September 29, 2014 | Author: Francis X. Wickersham
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - King Of Prussia Office
  • Brett Cooney (deceased) - Amanda Cerrano v. WCAB (Patterson UTI, Inc.); 1681 C.D. 2013; filed 6/12/14; by Judge Simpson

    The decedent sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of a drilling rig accident while working for the employer. The employer and the claimant entered into an agreement to pay dependency benefits to the decedent’s two minor children. In the agreement, the claimant reserved the right to file a fatal claim petition for widow’s benefits, which she did, but was denied.

    The claimant and the decedent met in 2002 in Wyoming, where they lived together and introduced themselves as husband and wife. They moved to Pennsylvania in 2009, after Act 144 abolished common law marriage. Therefore, the claimant’s petition for widow’s benefits was denied. The Workers’ Compensation Judge concluded that, although the claimant and the decedent exchanged words recognizing they were husband and wife when they lived in Wyoming in 2003, Wyoming did not recognize common law marriage as valid.

    The Appeal Board and Commonwealth Court affirmed. According to the court, §1103 of Act 144 includes a consideration of where the parties resided when they entered into a common law marriage prior to 2005. The parties resided in a state that did not recognize common law marriage. As such, the claimant and the decedent were never lawfully married prior to Pennsylvania’s January 1, 2005, amendment to the Marriage Law invalidating common law marriage, even assuming the decedent was not aware that the state on which they previously lived did not recognize common law marriage.

    Case Law Alerts, 4th Quarter, October 2014