Measure Would Remove Statute of Limitations on Spouses to Bring Action When Benefits Are Cut Off
TRENTON – Noting that the lifetime benefits owed to the surviving spouses of law enforcement personnel killed in the line of duty represent “a sacred contract,” Senator Jim Whelan today introduced legislation removing the statute of limitations for surviving spouses to bring action when workers’ compensation benefits are arbitrarily cut off.
“When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, we have a sacred responsibility to ensure that his or her loved ones are taken care of,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Based on that responsibility, current law dictates that the surviving spouses of fallen police officers receive lifetime workers’ compensation benefits. However, due to the current statute of limitations, if a mistake is made and benefits are halted, many people are finding themselves ineligible for the benefits that are rightly theirs.”
The bill would amend current law in regards to workers’ compensation benefits, and a claimant’s ability to petition an employer when benefits for a surviving spouse are cut off or denied. Under current law, if the surviving spouse doesn’t file a petition for benefits within two years of the date of an accident, or, if an agreement for benefits had already been reached, within two years of the benefits being cut, the spouse is no longer eligible for workers’ compensation. However, under Senator Whelan’s bill, if the claimant is a surviving dependent of a deceased member of the State Police or local police force who died in the line of duty, the two-year statute of limitations does not apply.
“No system is without flaws, and sometimes, mistakes are made within the workers’ compensation system,” said Senator Whelan. “However, in cases when that happens for the surviving spouses of police officers killed in the line of duty, we shouldn’t be watching the clock and ought to give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of a statute of limitations. It’s really the least we can do to give surviving spouses the time they need to get benefits reinstated.”
Senator Whelan noted that his bill was inspired by the plight of a constituent whose husband was killed in the line of duty. Joan DuRoss, of Ventnor City, lost her husband Daniel, a member of the Atlantic City Police Department, in September of 1963 when his police motorcycle was struck by a drunk driver. As a result of her loss, Ms. DuRoss was eligible for lifetime workers’ compensation benefits, but her benefit was cut off in the 1980s.
“Patrolman DuRoss gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, and the State has a responsibility to ensure that his widow receives the benefits to which she’s entitled,” said Senator Whelan. “However, for some reason, her guaranteed benefits were cut off in the 1980s, and at this point, Ms. DuRoss has no course of action to regain what’s rightfully hers. This bill would make sure that the families who’ve lost loved ones, like the DuRoss family, because those loved ones gave the greatest measure of service, be fairly and justly compensated for their loss.”
The bill will be referred to the Senate State Government Committee for consideration.