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The widow of a New Mexico police officer should be allowed to proceed with a late workers compensation claim because her husband's employer gave the false impression that it would handle the filing for her, the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled.
Kevin Schultz, an officer for the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department, drowned in August 2002 while saving a 12-year-old boy from drowning in the Rio Grande River. Mr. Schultz was off duty and was chaperoning a church outing for school children at the time of his death, court records show.
Wife Cheryl Schultz filed for workers comp death benefits in October 2003 after the one-year statute of limitations had expired for Mr. Schultz's claim, records show. Mrs. Schultz argued that she filed late because members of the Pojoaque police department promised her in a July 2003 meeting that they would “take care of everything for her,” including filing for workers comp death benefits.
While the department requested federal death benefits on behalf of Mr. Schultz, it did not file a workers comp death benefits claim on Mrs. Schultz's behalf. Mrs. Schultz said she filed her comp claim after finding out that the department was not going to submit the paperwork.
A workers comp judge denied Mrs. Schultz’s claim, partly because it was filed too late. The New Mexico Court of Appeals later affirmed that decision. The workers comp judge also found that Mr. Schultz’s death did not arise from his employment.
However, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously reversed that ruling last week. The state high court found that the one-year statute of limitations should not apply for Mrs. Schultz because the department had given her a reasonable expectation that it would file for workers comp death benefits, and she filed shortly after finding out that no filing had been submitted.
The court remanded the case to the New Mexico Court of Appeals to decide whether Mr. Schultz’s death arose out of his work.