The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit by a police officer’s widow who is seeking workers’ compensation benefits after her husband died rescuing a boy from a drowning while off duty.
Officer Kevin Schultz jumped into the Rio Grande in August 2002, saved a 12-year-old boy, collapsed face-down in shallow water and drowned. A medical examiner said the 44-year-old officer may have hit his head on a rock when he rushed into the river, an injury that incapacitated him.
The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Schultz’s widow, Cheryl, has already lost two rounds in court.
The justices for the state’s highest court will hear arguments Wednesday in her lawsuit against the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department and New Mexico Mutual Casualty Co.
Lawyers representing the department and insurance company said in court papers that the officer’s courage, though admirable, shouldn’t factor into the case.
They also say Cheryl Schultz missed the filing deadline to seek workers’ compensation benefits and point out that Kevin Schultz wasn’t on duty as a Pojoaque police officer and that his death occurred outside the boundaries of Pojoaque tribal land.
George Wright Weeth, the lawyer for Cheryl Schultz, said the only reason she did not file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits within a year was that tribal police lulled her into a false sense of security. They promised that they were handling all the paperwork on her behalf.
In her lawsuit, Cheryl Schultz says John Garcia, the Pojoaque tribal police chief, assured her in July 2003 that he would submit the workers’ compensation claim. This was still within the one-year deadline for filing.
But in October 2003, Cheryl Schultz discovered that no workers’ compensation claim had been made on her behalf. She then filed a complaint.
Thus far, the courts have ruled against Cheryl Schultz.
A workers’ compensation judge in 2008 struck down her claim on two grounds.
One was that the statute of limitations barred her claim from being considered. The other was that the accident in which her husband died “did not arise out of or in the course of employment.”
She appealed. The state Supreme Court decided that the merits of her case should be heard by the New Mexico Court of Appeals.
But last year, the Court of Appeals ruled that her complaint had not been timely. It did not address whether the officer’s death occurred in the course of his job as a police officer.
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