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A woman and newborn child are entitled to survivor benefits after the fiancé and father died in a construction accident, but the employer does not have to pay penalties in an alleged mishandling of the workers compensation claim, an appeals court in Louisiana ruled Wednesday.
Travis Chiokai died in November 2017 after falling 100 feet while working on electrical lines for his employer Irby Construction Co., which agreed to pay survivor benefits to his child after she was born a month later but not to the child’s mother, according to documents in Perez v. Irby Construction Co., filed in the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit, in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Providing $624.57 a week for the child following her birth, a sum $28.43 below the maximum survivor benefit allowed per state law, the employer contested giving that balance to the baby’s mother, arguing she did not meet the legal standard for benefits, according to documents. The company also contested providing survivor benefits from the time of Mr. Chiokai’s death six weeks prior to the baby’s birth, according to documents.
A state workers compensation judge in early 2019 found that the man’s fiancé was dependent on him for support and was entitled to benefits and that benefits should have kicked in from the time of Ms. Chiokai’s death, and added penalties totaling $2,000 and attorney’s fees of $3,000 to the award because of company was “arbitrary and capricious in its handling” of the comp claim, according to documents.
On appeal, the construction company claimed the judge erred in six counts, including the additional money to the fiancé and the payment due from benefits that were not immediately paid following Mr. Chiokai’s death. Citing state case law and amended law that put the fiancé within the parameters of a dependent, the appeals court granted the benefits and payment back to the time of Mr. Chiokai’s death. However, the court reversed on the penalties and attorney’s fees, stating the judge in her additional award “gave no reasons for awarding penalties” and that the judge was “manifestly erroneous… due to the close legal questions presented in this matter.”
Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's partial strike-down of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, a federal judge ruled Monday that a deceased Chicago woman's same-sex wife is entitled to survivor benefits based on her state of residence.