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Widow of man murdered on job entitled to comp benefits

The widow of a man who died after he was brutally assaulted and robbed by a newly hired day laborer was entitled to death benefits, an appeals court held Thursday.

In Cardenas v. Industrial Commission, the Arizona Court of Appeals in Phoenix affirmed the Industrial Commission of Arizona’s finding that the deceased man was an employee and that his murder arose out of his employment.

On Nov. 6, 2016, the decedent was working at a rental property owned by David Cardenas Sr., using equipment, tools and clothing supplied by Cardenas’ company, AB Plumbing LLC of Tucson, Arizona. Neither Cardenas nor the company had workers compensation insurance. The man’s widow testified that he was instructed that day to pick up a day laborer who had been hired to help him lay flooring. The day laborer assaulted and robbed the employee, who died that day from his injuries.

The widow claimed that her husband, who is undocumented, regularly worked as a handyman for Mr. Cardenas and his plumbing company. She testified that he was paid $10 per hour in cash once a week, had use of AB Plumbing tools and a work truck, and wore an AB uniform. She filed a claim for dependent’s benefits from the state’s Special Fund Division/No Insurance Section.

Mr. Cardenas argued that the decedent was not an employee and that the work he had performed was contractual, but an administrative law judge held that the decedent was an employee of both Mr. Cardenas and AB Plumbing and entered an award for a compensable claim. Mr. Cardenas appealed, arguing that the ALJ erred in determining that the decedent was an employee or that his assault arose out of employment activity.

The appeals court noted that the record showed that Mr. Cardenas owned eight rental properties, and that the decedent collected rent, served eviction notices and performed repairs. The court also found that the decedent picked up the day laborer to help with the floor “at the express direction” of Mr. Cardenas, and that in this case, his death arose out of working alone with an unknown day laborer. Therefore, the court held that the widow and the record produced sufficient evidence to support the ALJ’s finding that the man’s death was compensable under the Arizona Workers Compensation Act.