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Wheeler’s work-zone death case raises dependency question

Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death

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Christopher Wheeler died while working on a road construction crew near Liberty Center. He was working the flag in Warren County when he was struck by a truck on Highway 65. This Sunday’s Des Moines Register reporter, Sharyn Jackson, did a nice job of writing up the dependency issue involving his family. She reports his five siblings along with nieces or nephews not only looked up to him, but also “at times the sole provider for his household.” And that’s the point I find the most intriguing from a legal standpoint. Wheeler worked for Iowa Erosion Control since May. Ironically one case on this very issue (actual dependency) involves Iowa Erosion Control. Here is a direct quote from the case.

“In Iowa Erosion Control, Inc. v. Sanchez, 599 N.W. 2d 711 (Iowa 1999), the Iowa Supreme Court interpreted Iowa Code section 85.44 as allowing two types of dependents: (1) those who are actual dependents; and (2) those who are mentally or physically incapacitated from earning.”

My point is this, if the parents, brothers, sisters, nieces or nephews were actually dependent on Chris Wheeler they have a workers’ compensation claim.

(515-222-1110 or [email protected] or [email protected].)

So why is this important to the Wheelers? It is important because the Wheeler’s may be eligible to receive coverage under both types of insurance: the workers’ compensation and from the personal injury insurance. The truck’s casualty insurance policy will provide coverage as may the workers’ compensation insurance. And if Chris Wheeler were single then the work comp insurance will try and settle quickly and on the cheap. The difference could be over a $100,000. The insurance adjuster will act all friendly like he’s doing them a favor when in fact he’s hiding the ball. He won’t tell the Wheeler’s the dependents may be entitled to lifetime benefits which I’ll assume are pretty significant. That alone may be worth over $250,000.

So what should the Wheeler’s do? Do not talk to the adjuster without first getting legal advice. Is that clear enough? DO NOT TALK TO THE INSURANCE ADJUSTER WITHOUT LEGAL ADVICE! Okay I said it again. (515-222-1110 or [email protected] or [email protected].)

I posted a news item about Chris Wheeler on September 29th, Iowa Highway 65 Construction Worker Struck and Killed. If we can assist with both the personal injury case (the owner of the truck that hit and killed Wheeler) or the workers’ compensation case against Iowa Erosion Control, drop us a line. (515-222-1110 or [email protected] or [email protected].)

Here is the actual quote from the Rojas vs Pine Ridge Farms case.

Iowa Codes section 85.31(1) indicates when death results from a work-related injury, the employer shall pay dependents who were wholly dependent on the earnings of the employee for support at the time of the injury.  Under the statute, dependents include a surviving spouse, children, and dependents as defined under Iowa Code section 85.44. 

A dependant is defined under Iowa Code section 85.44 as:

... one actually dependent or mentally or physically incapacitated from earning.  Such status shall be determined in accordance with the facts as of the date of the injury.  In such cases if there is more than one person, the compensation benefit shall be equally divided among them.  If there is no one wholly dependent and more than one person partially dependent, the compensation benefit shall be divided among them in the proportion each dependency bears to their aggregate dependency.

In Iowa Erosion Control, Inc. v. Sanchez, 599 N.W. 2d 711 (Iowa 1999), the Iowa Supreme Court interpreted Iowa Code section 85.44 as allowing two types of dependents: (1) those who are actual dependents; and (2) those who are mentally or physically incapacitated from earning.

In Murphy v. Franklin County, 259 Iowa 703, 145 N.W. 2d 465 (1966), the Iowa Supreme Court indicated that the calculation for determining the degree of dependency, under Iowa Code section 85.31(3), is related to the percentage of wages determined to have been contributed to the dependent’s welfare.  In Murphy, the evidentiary record indicated a seventeen year old minor son contributed at least fifty percent of two paychecks toward his family.  Based on that evidence, the court upheld an award of fifty percent under the statutory formula found in Iowa Code section 85.31(1).  The Iowa Supreme Court in Murphy noted:

Dependency and support under the workmens’ compensation law are not capable of certain definition.  The definition and application of these words should not be too severely restricted.  If the contribution is made to the ordinary comfort and convenience which are reasonably appropriate to parties in their station of life, it should be considered as support and the recipient regarded as a dependent.  Id. at 707(quoting Lighthill v. McCurry, 175 Neb. 547, 552, 122 N.W. 2d, 468, 471)

Call us, at 515-222-1110 or [email protected] or [email protected]

Category: Pedestrian Accidents & Injuries

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