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The widow of a New Mexico police officer who died while saving a child from drowning should receive workers compensation death benefits, the New Mexico Court of Appeals said this month, overturning a decision that said the woman's filing was too late and that her husband's death was not work-related.
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.
The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled in April that Ms. Schultz's claim should not be time-barred because her husband's employer had given her a reasonable expectation that it would file for workers comp benefits on her behalf, though it failed to do so. That decision overruled a decision by the appellate court that found Ms. Schultz had filed too late.
The high court remanded the case back to the appeals court to decide whether Mr. Schultz's death arose out of his work.
In a unanimous decision on Aug. 19, a three-judge panel of the appellate court said Ms. Schultz should receive benefits because his death arose out of his work, even if he was off duty. In its option, the court found that “it is the nature of police work to render assistance when and where the need arises.”
“Officer Schultz took action in an emergency to rescue a child in need of immediate assistance and was authorized to do so by employer's policies permitting off-duty and extra-jurisdictional action in 'circumstances so serious that immediate action must be taken,'” the court's ruling said.