Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “Are the laws or rules applying to a wrongful death claim different from a personal injury not involving death?”
The summer of 2013 was a joyous time for some same-sex couples. When the United States Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”)—a 1996 Act signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages—on equal protection grounds, same-sex couples across the United States became eligible for certain spousal benefits.
A few days before the DOMA decision, a woman named Lesly Toboada-Hall passed away after a long bout with uterine cancer. Hall’s wife—Stacy Schuett—received survivor benefits from FedEx—where Toboada-Hall had worked as a delivery driver for 26 years, but the company told Schuett she was not entitled to receive Toboada-Hall’s pension benefit because Toboada-Hall died six days before the DOMA decision.
Public and private employers as well as federal and state legislatures have struggled with the complex ramifications of the DOMA decision. In some instances, employers merely needed to change policies to comport with the decision, while in others, state and federal statutes and administrative rules were placed in jeopardy and needed to be modified.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 DOMA decision arose out of a case involving Edith Windsor—whose spouse Thea Spyer died in 2009. Windsor argued that she should not have to pay a $363,053 tax on Windsor’s estate. Federal law provides for an exemption from the tax for spouses. Although Windsor and Spyer married in Canada in 2007, under DOMA, spouses in same-sex marriages could not claim the exemption.