Rojas v. Pine Ridge Farms, No. 08-884/08-0554 (Iowa Ct. App. 02/04/09).
Ruling: The Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the apportionment of workers' compensation death benefits based on the status of the deceased's two wives and their respective dependents.
What it means:
In Iowa, death benefits do not have to be divided equally among the surviving spouses and dependents to be considered an equitable distribution.
Summary: An alien worker was killed in an accident while working at the employer's site in Iowa. He had a wife and five children in Mexico. He regularly sent them money. While working in the United States, he married a woman in Iowa. They had one child together. After his death, both wives separately filed for survivors' benefits. The Iowa Court of Appeals determined that the decedent's resident wife in Iowa was the surviving spouse but also determined the family members in Mexico were his nonresident alien dependents.
The Court of Appeals determined that under Iowa law, 50 percent of the death benefits were to be allocated to the wife in Iowa; 20 percent of the death benefits were allocated to his son in Iowa; and 30 percent were to be assigned equally to his wife and children in Mexico. However, because they were nonresident alien dependents, Iowa law requires that half of the compensation paid to them go to a second injury fund. Thus, the wife and children in Mexico were entitled to 15 percent of his death benefits.
The Court of Appeals found that as the worker had paid 15 percent of his earnings to his family in Mexico while he was alive, it was determined accordingly after his death. The court therefore upheld the lower tribunals' apportionment of benefits. The Court of Appeals pointed out that "an equitable division does not necessarily mean an equal division." It noted the evidence demonstrated that the allocation of benefits should be approximately the same amount of support the worker provided while he was still alive.
March 23, 2009
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