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Travelers Appeals Case in Firefighter Death, Won't Have to Pay Half of Workers Comp Claim

Source: Quad City Times

Posted on 19 Aug 2010

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In a case hinging on whether a volunteer firefighter had been officially dispatched or not, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Justin Faur, a volunteer firefighter who died while trying to save his boss during a farm accident, was not on duty at the time -- and thus Travelers, the fire department's worker's compensation insurer, should not have to pay half of the worker's compensation claim.

Faur, age 23 and a member of the Andover volunteer fire department for two and a half years, was working on the farm of Dwight Johnson on April 16, 2005, when Johnson was overcome by methane fumes after falling into a manure pit.

Faur ran to the farmhouse and told Johnson’s wife, Sherril, to call 911. He then ran back to the pit and tried to pull Johnson out, according to court records. Both men were found face-down in the pit.

Both men were hospitalized and later died.

A year later, Faur was named a recipient of the Carnegie Medal for Heroism by the Carnegie Hero Fund Foundation.

Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance provided the workers’ compensation program for Johnson Valley Beef, the company owned by Johnson, and paid the workers’ compensation benefits in connection with Faur’s injuries and death.

Grinnell then sought a contribution from Travelers Insurance Co., the workers’ compensation carrier for the Andover Fire Department, claiming Faur had been acting in his capacity as a volunteer firefighter at the time of the incident.

A deputy workers’ compensation commissioner ruled that Travelers should pay half of the benefits, citing the fact that the Andover Fire Department was dispatched to the scene, although it was unclear whether Faur received that page before he tried to save Johnson.

On appeal from Grinnell, a workers’ compensation commission upheld the decision, arguing that a volunteer firefighter can be summoned to duty by the circumstances he or she witnesses, regardless of whether the department had been dispatched.

Travelers appealed to the Polk County District Court, which ruled that a volunteer firefighter can be summoned to duty only through official channels.

In its ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s ruling.