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Deceased Truck Driver’s Estranged Wife Entitled to Survivor Benefits

The appellate court’s decision in Sifford v. Sifford et al. reverses a ruling from the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.

October 14, 2011
Related Topics: Legal Compliance, Workers' Compensation, Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Compensation, Benefits, Latest News
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The wife of a deceased Virginia truck driver is entitled to receive survivor benefits despite being separated from her husband at the time of his death, a Virginia court ruled this week.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia said Gena Sifford qualifies as a dependent under the state’s workers’ compensation law because she relied on Anthony Sifford to pay most of her expenses, and was living in the same home as her estranged husband when he died from a work-related accident in September 2008.

“The evidence is uncontroverted that Mr. Sifford supported his wife on a regular basis and that she relied on that support for reasonable necessaries,” the ruling reads.

According to court records, Mr. and Ms. Sifford separated in January 2008 after nearly 20 years of marriage, and moved into separate bedrooms within their house. A written agreement in May 2008 waived spousal support and child support between the pair, but

Mr. Sifford agreed to pay all of the home’s expenses and provide money for the couple’s minor daughter.

Ms. Sifford, who earned about $11,100 a year as a teacher’s aide at the time of Mr. Sifford’s death, testified that she was dependent on her husband’s full-time income. She said Mr. Sifford paid such expenses as home mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, utilities, cable bills and cellphone bills.

The appellate court’s decision in Sifford s. Sifford et. al. reverses a ruling from the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. That decision said Mr. and Ms. Sifford’s financial arrangement was meant to benefit their child, and that Ms. Sifford should not receive Mr. Sifford’s death benefits because she waived spousal support.

The commission erred, the appellate ruling said, because Mr. Sifford continued to support Ms. Sifford and their child until his death.

Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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