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Husband of worker who drowned in puddle due workers comp death benefits


The husband of a water meter reader who drowned in a puddle while suffering a seizure should receive workers compensation death benefits for the accident, an Illinois appellate court has ruled.

Jacqueline Harvey began working as a meter reader for the southeastern Illinois city of Bridgeport, Illinois, in March 2011, court records show. Ms. Harvey, who had a seizure disorder, suffered a seizure in May 2011 while in the process of reading a meter and fell facedown in a puddle of water that was about 8 inches deep.

The residents of the home Ms. Harvey was checking found her in their yard and attempted to resuscitate her, according to court filings. However, Ms. Harvey was pronounced dead at an area hospital, and her death was ruled as a drowning caused by a clinical seizure.

Ms. Harvey's husband, Stephen, filed a workers comp claim related to her death. However, Bridgeport city officials argued in court testimony that Ms. Harvey was not a city employee and therefore not eligible to receive workers comp benefits.

The city argued in part that Ms. Harvey was a contractor who was paid monthly, did not have taxes deducted from her paychecks and did not receive city employee benefits. Court records show that Bridgeport employees have taxes withheld from their paychecks, which are paid every two weeks.

The city also argued in records that Ms. Harvey was able to control how and when she performed her work duties, unlike city employees.

An arbitrator considering Mr. Harvey's comp claim ruled that Ms. Harvey was not an employee of the city of Bridgeport, and therefore was not eligible for comp benefits. Mr. Harvey appealed to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, which reversed the arbitrator's decision and found that Ms. Harvey's death arose out of and in the course of her employment.

The Illinois comp commission ordered the city to pay $2,069.25 for medical expenses, $8,000 for burial expenses, and $466.13 per week for 25 years or $500,000, according to court records. Bridgeport appealed to the Crawford County, Illinois, Circuit Court, which upheld the comp commission's ruling.

In an appeal of the circuit court decision, the Illinois Court of Appeals unanimously agreed on Thursday that Mr. Harvey should receive workers comp death benefits.

The appellate court found that though Ms. Harvey had some control over the nature of her work, she was required to check a certain number of meters each month to maintain her employment as a meter reader. Additionally, the nature of her work led her to low-lying rural areas where water could accumulate.

“While the decedent had some flexibility as to when she could read the water meters, she did not have the same flexibility as the general public to avoid standing water and other rural conditions,” the ruling reads. “Her job required her to read the meter in this low-lying secluded area where water pooled whenever it rained. The water was deep enough to cause drowning, and the remoteness of the location meant that someone injured there would not likely receive prompt assistance.”

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