Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Benefits – Survivor benefits – Entitlement – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation – Statutory interpretation – Standard of review – Correctness – Reasonableness simpliciter
Griffin v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Division),  N.J. No. 337, 2013 NLTD(G) 136, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, October 10, 2013, D.H. Burrage J.
The Applicant worker, Peter Griffin, was injured at work on March 11, 1995. In 1998, Mr. Griffin was found to be totally disabled for employment and was granted extended earning loss benefits (“EEL benefits”) by the first respondent, the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (the “Commission”).
In June 2009, when Mr. Griffin reached age 65, his EEL benefits were discontinued and replaced with pension replacement benefits (PRBs) in relation to the employer-sponsored pension plan (ESPP), pursuant to section 75 of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act (the “Act”). The ESPP for Mr. Griffin provided for a death benefit whereby his spouse would receive a survivor benefit of up to 60% of his pension. Mr. Griffin asked the Commission to also cover this benefit and, in June 2010, the senior pension adjudicator for the Commission rejected that request.
On December 14, 2010, Mr. Griffin requested the internal review division of the Commission review the June 2010 decision. On January 25, 2011, the Commission’s internal review specialist upheld the June 2010 decision.
On November 2, 2011, Mr. Griffin requested a review by the second respondent, the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Division (the “Review Division”). The Chief Review Commissioner of the Review Division (the “Chief Commissioner”) heard Mr. Griffin’s request and, in April 2012, the Chief Commissioner upheld the Commission’s decision that section 75 of the Act did not provide for survivor benefits to be paid. The Chief Commissioner found that section 75 of the Act provided for a payment of PRBs in an “amount equal to the amount” that a worker has lost. The Chief Review Commissioner held that the benefit in substitution for the pension does not qualify as a pension per se. The Chief Review Commissioner held that the benefits payable under section 75 do not survive the death of the worker.
On June 4, 2012, Mr. Griffin requested a reconsideration of the Chief Commissioner’s decision. On November 21, 2012, another Commissioner conducted a reconsideration and concluded that the Chief Commissioner was correct in his decision. Mr. Griffin then brought the within application for judicial review, seeking an Order to quash the Chief Commissioner’s decision and the subsequent reconsideration decision.
The Court first conducted a detailed review of the Act which provided for the rights of review. The Court also reviewed the decision of the Chief Commissioner. The Court then considered the parties’ submissions relating to the applicable standard of review.
The Court held that the standard of review to be applied by the Chief Commission was one of correctness. However, the Court held that the standard of review to be applied by the Court was one of reasonableness. The Court then proceeded to consider the decision of the Chief Commissioner based on a standard of reasonableness.
The Court considered the principles of interpretation applicable to legislative interpretation. The Court started by reviewing the plain meaning of section 75 of the Act. That section, based on its plain language, does not capture survivor benefits. The Court then considered the language of section 75 in the context of other provisions in the Act and noted that the Act did not provide for full indemnity for injured workers. The Court then considered the legislative history of the Act and other relevant legislation (namely the Pension Benefits Act, 1997). The Court then considered the Act as a whole and found provisions that specifically provided for compensation if a worker dies.
The Court concluded that the Chief Commissioner’s decision was reasonable and dismissed Mr. Griffin’s application for review. The Court made no order with respect to costs because this was the first time the issue of survivor benefits was considered in the context of section 75 of the Act.
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