If an employee dies as a result of a work-related injury or illness, the employee’s surviving family members are entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. But it’s not always easy for family members to obtain the benefits they deserve—especially if there are disputes over liability or the value of the claim. In fact, one case involving workers’ compensation death benefits for a widow of a former police officer recently made its way to the Nevada Supreme Court. Here’s what you should know about this important case:
An Overview of Laura DeMaranville vs. Employers Insurance Company of Nevada and City of Reno
Daniel DeMaranville served as a police officer for 21 years before retiring from the force in 1990 and becoming a security officer for a private company. In 2012, Daniel died from cardiac arrest shortly after undergoing gallbladder removal surgery.
After his death, Daniel’s wife, Laura DeMaranville, filed a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits. The claim was denied by both the City of Reno and Employers Insurance Company of Nevada (EICON), the company that provided workers’ compensation coverage to the city at the time Daniel was employed. Both parties argued that there was no evidence that Daniel’s death was caused by heart disease.
The denial was appealed, and an appeals officer reversed this decision. The appeals officer found:
- There was evidence that occupational heart disease was the cause of death.
- The City of Reno was liable since they were self-insured at the time of Daniel’s death. EICON was not liable since they no longer insured the city at the time of Daniel’s death.
- Benefits should be calculated using the income Daniel earned as a security officer at the time of his death.
This decision was appealed to the district court, who agreed with the appeals officer’s first two conclusions, but disagreed with the method used to calculate benefits. The district court ruled that benefits should be calculated using the income Daniel earned from the City of Reno at the time of his death. Since he was not employed with the city at this time, he was not earning an income, which means benefits would equal $0. At this point, Laura appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court’s ruling addressed three questions:
• Did a compensable injury cause Daniel’s death?
• Who is responsible for compensating Daniel’s family?
• How should the death benefits be calculated?
Did a compensable injury cause Daniel’s death?
Both Daniel’s surgeon and a cardiologist specialist agreed that heart disease caused Daniel’s death. Based on this evidence, the Supreme Court ruled that it was clear that heart disease was the cause of Daniel’s death.
By law, heart disease is considered an occupational disease if it is diagnosed in a police officer who has served for more than five years. This is true even if the heart disease is not diagnosed until after the police officer has retired. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to benefits since Daniel’s occupational heart disease was covered by the workers’ compensation system.
Who is responsible for compensating Daniel’s family?
The Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts were wrong to conclude that the City of Reno was liable for the workers’ compensation claim. Daniel’s heart disease was related to his work as a police officer. EICON was the city’s insurer the last time that Daniel was employed as a police officer. It doesn’t matter that EICON no longer insured the city at the time of Daniel’s death—the company did provide coverage when Daniel was employed and exposed to the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the court found that under the “last injurious exposure rule,” EICON was liable for compensating Daniel’s family.
How should the death benefits be calculated?
The Supreme Court also disagreed with the method used by the lower court to calculate the workers’ compensation death benefits. The law states that a spouse can recover two-thirds of the victim’s average monthly wage for the rest of their life. The law also states that the average monthly wage should be calculated by looking at the victim’s income during the 12-week period ending on the date which the injury occurred.
In this case, the court found that the date which the injury occurred was the last day that Daniel was exposed to the risk of occupational heart disease, which was his last day as a police officer. Therefore, the court ruled that the benefits should be calculated using the income Daniel earned as a police officer.
This is a complex case, but it answers a lot of questions regarding occupational disease benefits, death benefits, and liability for fatal work-related illnesses. If your loved one has suffered a fatal work-related injury or illness, it’s important to seek legal representation as soon as possible.
The GGRM Law Firm Represents Victims Suffering From Occupational Diseases
The workers’ compensation attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have decades of experience representing clients who have been diagnosed with occupational diseases in the Las Vegas area. Our attorneys have the legal expertise and resources that you need to win the benefits you deserve. Schedule a free consultation about your case by calling 702-388-4476 or filling out the form on this contact page.