Spousal desertion wrongly applied when husband denied death benefits
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled the widower of a woman who died following a permanent work injury was entitled to collect workers compensation death benefits even though the couple was separated at the time of the death.
In a Friday decision, the court determined Roger Blasdell was entitled to receive death benefits after Heather Blasdell died from overdosing on medication she was using following the injury.
The couple decided to live separately more than two years into their marriage for employment reasons, although they never divorced and remained financially supportive of each other.
After the couple decided to live separately, Mr. Blasdell started seeing another woman, but he also paid Ms. Blasdell’s funeral expenses following her September 2016 death.
Ms. Blasdell’s employer, Linhaven Inc., and its insurer, Accident Fund National Insurance Co./United Heartland, claimed Mr. Blasdell was barred from receiving death benefits under a section of Iowa law that prevents a spouse from receiving comp benefits in cases where a surviving spouse “willfully deserted” the deceased.
A comp commissioner agreed Mr. Blasdell was not entitled to benefits. A district court reversed the determination, and an appeals court agreed.
The Supreme Court said both lower courts correctly determined Mr. Blasdell didn’t desert his wife, and that the decision to live separately was made jointly, and for financial reasons.
The separation should not have barred Mr. Blasdell from collecting death benefits, the court said.