Billingslea v. Tartell
In Billingslea v. Tartell, 127 W. Va. 750, 35 S.E.2d 89 (1945), a lawyer who assisted an injured worker in winning a workers' compensation award sought payment for his efforts out of the funds awarded.
The defendant had placed the funds in a bank account, and the lawyer argued, in part, that the funds should be released because the act of placing them in the bank had changed the character of the funds, stripping them of the statute's protection.
The Court disagreed, and explained:
But did this compensation money lose its exemption by its being deposited in the bank? We think not. It has not been spent; it has not been invested; it has not been commingled with other funds; it has not lost its identity. True, the money, by deposit in bank, became the property of the bank, and the depositor thereby exchanged for his money the bank's credit for a like amount. But we cannot disregard the facts of modern business practice. Money in substantial sums is not carried on one's person.
The defendant had no practical way to collect his compensation except to clear his check through a bank, no reasonable or practicable method of safeguarding it except by leaving it on deposit, and no convenient or practical way of using or spending it except by availing himself of the facilities of a bank. In all probability, he never had a cent of the money in his hands in cash.
It was credit to his benefit when held by the state; it was credit in the drawee bank when he received a check therefor; and it was credit in no greater degree or different character when left on deposit in the collecting bank. It must be regarded as "compensation" until its character has been changed in substantial and legal degree.
The Court in Billingslea focused on whether or not the money had lost its character as compensation. "It has not been spent; it has not been invested; it has not been commingled with other funds; it has not lost its identity." Id.