Officer Kevin Schultz died saving a 12-year-old boy from drowning. His widow seeks workers’ comp death benefits. The questions facing New Mexico’s Supreme Court: Did she file paperwork on time and was Schultz “on duty” at the time of his death?
Schultz had taken a day off to chaperone a church youth group on a picnic. At the picnic, he jumped into the Rio Grande River near Pilar, NM, and saved a boy from drowning.
A medical examiner says Schultz may have hit his head on a rock when he rushed into the river.
Now, his wife, Cheryl Schultz, is seeking death benefits.
She’s lost two rounds so far.
A workers’ comp judge struck down her claim on two grounds:
- The statute of limitations barred her claim because she filed more than a year after her husband’s death, and
- His death didn’t arise out of or in the course of employment.
A state appeals court also denied benefits, ruling Cheryl Schultz didn’t file paperwork on time. But the appeals court didn’t address whether her husband’s death arose out of or in the course of his employment.
Did he die in line of duty?
Cheryl Schultz tried to refute both findings of the workers’ comp judge.
It was 14 months after her husband’s death when she found out he hadn’t.
In a deposition, the police chief said he couldn’t remember whether he had made that promise or not.
Cheryl Schultz also argues that a police officer is truly never off duty.
In fact, a letter to federal officials from the lieutenant governor of Pojoaque Pueblo said Schultz had died in the line of duty.
The Department of Justice, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Coast Guard and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety have all declared that Kevin Schultz died in the line of duty.
There’s no word on when the state supreme court will issue its ruling. It could take months.
News reports say the justices pelted Pojoaque Pueblo’s attorney with questions and “appeared to indicate an unease with the way the workers’ compensation system had worked — or didn’t work — in this case.”
Cheryl Schultz’s attorney says in other states, similar cases have had positive outcomes for the family of the deceased.
The amount of workers’ comp benefits in question: $307,000.
Should the court award death benefits to Cheryl Schultz? Let us know what you think in the comments below.