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Chief’s death at second job doesn’t qualify for benefits

Scott Lauck//August 25, 2020

Chief’s death at second job doesn’t qualify for benefits

Scott Lauck//August 25, 2020

The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled Aug. 18 that the survivors of a St. Francois County police chief who died while working at his second job don’t qualify for a state benefit for officers who are killed in the line of duty.

In addition to serving as chief of police for the city of Leadwood, Dale Newman also loaded trucks at a UPS warehouse in Crystal City. On Aug. 27, 2014, Newman died of a heart attack while working at the warehouse.

Newman’s death came just one day before a state law took effect that widened eligibility for the state’s Line of Duty Compensation Fund, which provides a $25,000 cash payment to the survivors of police officers and other public safety workers. But the appeals court said that, because Newman wasn’t acting as a law enforcement officer at the time of his death, he didn’t qualify under either version of the statute.

“No reader should construe this opinion to diminish the service of Chief Newman as police chief and as a law enforcement officer during his lifetime, or the immense loss suffered by the survivors of Chief Newman and the citizens of the City of Leadwood,” Judge Gary M. Gaertner Jr. wrote for the court. “Unfortunately, the plain and unambiguous language of [the benefit law] as drafted by the legislature requires that Chief Newman was engaged ‘in the active performance of his duties’ as police chief when he suffered a fatal heart attack.”

Newman’s estate argued that, as a small-town officer, he was “always subject to call.” A medical expert testified that, while Newman’s warehouse-job exertion during hot weather was the prevailing cause of the heart attack, the stress of his work as police chief directly contributed to his death.

In a 2014 bill, lawmakers removed several limiting phrases from the Line of Duty Compensation Fund’s enabling statute, specifically removing a requirement that the death occur “while the individual is on duty.”

The Eastern District agreed with an earlier ruling by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission that, because those amendments “expanded the factual circumstances under which claimants would be eligible for benefits,” they made a substantive change in the law that couldn’t be applied retroactively — even by a day.

The court noted, however, that officers frequently have been found eligible for workers’ compensation benefits even when technically off duty if they, say, were assisting on-duty officers during an emergency or stopping to help car accident victims.

But just because Newman was on call as police chief at his second job didn’t mean he was “in the active performance of his duties as police chief at all times, without limitation,” Gaertner wrote.

“Such a holding would expand liability of the LDC Fund beyond what the legislature intended,” he added. Judges James M. Dowd and Robin Ransom concurred.

Michael A. Moroni, an attorney in Bloomfield who represented Newman’s estate, said he was disappointed in the ruling and is considering whether to seek further appeal. A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The case is Estate of Newman v. City of Leadwood, ED107986.

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