Crash Widow Denied Benefits By Court

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Christine Wells-Groff, the widow of a firefighting pilot killed in the line of duty, has been denied federal death benefits by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling was finalized when the court declined to hear the widow's appeal on her own and other widows' behalf. Unlike public safety employees killed in the line of duty, the widows are not entitled to roughly $250,000 in federal death benefits because their husbands worked for a company that provides pilots for the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and not directly for the state. To the law, it makes no difference that the men flew CDF-owned aircraft, wore CDF uniforms and operated at the direction of the CDF. Widows have been excluded from federal death benefits since 1980, when the Department of Justice decided to exclude from federal death benefits tanker pilots hired by contract for seasonal firefighting.

"It's shaken my confidence in myself and in what's right and what's wrong," Wells-Groff told PressDemocrat.com. The widow said the injustice would keep her fighting and her lawyer added that bills that address the legislation were winding their way through the House and Senate. A life insurance policy held by Wells-Groff's husband also denied payment, in that case, because the pilot was flying an aircraft when he died.