Arizona workers may want to pay attention to a recent workers' compensation case in a neighboring state that resulted in a unanimous opinion being handed down by the New Mexico Supreme Court. In this case, the wife of a fallen police officer filed for workers' compensation death benefits after her husband drowned trying to save the life of a child in 2002. An examiner believed that the officer hit his head when he dove to rescue the child. Fortunately, the child made it out of the water alive, although the rescuer did not.
What makes this case interesting is that the officer was not technically on duty at the time; he was at a church picnic when he noticed a child struggling in the water. Nevertheless, his widow filed for workers' compensation benefits. She argued that her late husband was killed while performing the job functions of a police officer, even if he happened to be off-duty at the time of his death.
The woman's attorney has pointed-out that the officer received at an honor reserved for those who die while "in the line of duty". However, her claim for benefits initially was dismissed, because the woman had allegedly missed her state's deadline for filing workers' comp claims.
While the court's decision recognized that she had filed for benefits outside the legal deadlines for doing so, the state Supreme Court held that her claim should be allowed. According to the judges on the state's highest court, her husband's employer had told the widow that they would file all the necessary paperwork to initiate the deceased officer's worker's comp claim.
The lower courts will now decide whether the husband died within the scope of his job duties. That conclusion will influence whether his widow will receive workers' compensation that may reimburse her at least for a portion of her husband's lost wages. This case illustrates the importance of not only timely filings when it comes to workers' compensation, but also of following-up with employers on their actions after an accident.
Source: Las Cruces Sun-Times "NM Supreme Court rules for widow of fallen officer on workers' compensation benefits," Milan Simonich, April 11, 2013