Stenz v. Industrial Commission of Arizona – 7/20/2015

August 18, 2015

Arizona Supreme Court holds that interest on Worker’s Compensation death claims accrues from the day the carrier is notified of a claim.

Charles Stenz suffered an on-the-job injury in 2005 and died in 2009.  Alleging that his death was related to his workplace injury, Stenz’s widow filed a claim for death benefits under A.R.S. § 23-1061(A) in September 2009.  The insurance carrier received notice in October 2009.  After four years of litigation, Ms. Stenz received a final award.  The carrier paid the amount of the award, but did not pay interest that would be due under Arizona’s general interest statute, A.R.S. § 44-1201.  Ms. Stenz argued that the claim was liquidated at the time the carrier was notified of the claim in October 2009.  The carrier argued that the claim was not liquidated until the final award in 2013.

If the benefits were liquidated, then the carrier was required to pay interest.  “A claim is liquidated if the evidence furnishes data which, if believed, makes it possible to compute the amount with exactness, without reliance upon opinion or discretion.”  La Paz County v. Yuma County, 153 Ariz. 162, 168 (1987). 

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Stenz.  Because a claim for death benefits is subject to a fixed payment schedule, it does not depend on the award of an administrative law judge to determine the size of the legal obligation.  A.R.S. § 23-1061(G) specifically states that carriers shall pay compensation “without the necessity for the making of an award.”  Denying interest until after a final award would encourage carriers to protract litigation.  Interest therefore accrues from the date on which the carrier receives notice of the claim.

Chief Justice Bales authored the opinion, which Vice Chief Justice Pelander and Justices Berch and Timmer joined.  Justice Brutinel separately concurred, expressing his view that interest should accrue from the date of death rather than the date the carrier receives notice of a claim.