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Decedent Tara O’Sullivan, worked as a police officer for the City of Sacramento when she died from a gunshot wound on June 19, 2019.

Krista Horvath and Ms. O’Sullivan were sisters. Just prior to her death, decedent and Ms. Horvath agreed to move in together with Ms. Horvath’s fiancé. This would allow Ms. Horvath to save money for her planned wedding. They had signed a lease before the death, and intended to split the utility bills in half.

The Death Without Dependents Unit primarily argued at trial that Ms. Horvath would merely have been a roommate of decedent and that sharing the bills as part of a family pot is insufficient to establish dependency.

A Findings and Order issued which found that competing applicant, Krista Horvath was a partial dependent of deceased employee Tara O’Sullivan, and dismissed the claim of the Death Without Dependents Unit.

The WCAB panel denied the Death Without Dependents Unit Petition for Reconsideration in the panel decision of Krista Horvath for Tara O’Sullivan (Deceased), Death Without Dependents v. City OF Sacramento, (ADJ12601349)

Dependency is determined as of the time of injury, and may be found to be total or partial, depending on the facts established. Dependency may be defined as reliance upon another person for support. Partial dependents are those who at the time of injury have means of support other than the deceased’s contributions.

To prove partial dependency, it is sufficient to show that the claimants looked to the deceased’s contributions to maintain his or her accustomed mode of living and that the same living standard can no longer be maintained. (Atlantic Ricl1field Co. v. WCAB (Arvisu) (1982) (42 Cal.Comp.Cases 369) The contribution must be made in goods or money, and the value of services is not considered. (Great W. Power Co. v. IAC (Savercool) (1923) 192 Cal. 724.)

Death Without Dependents primarily argued at trial that applicant would merely have been a roommate of decedent and that sharing the bills as part of a family pot is insufficient to establish dependency.

While this is true, the facts establish that decedent intended to take on a greater share of the family pot so that applicant could save for her wedding.

If only applicant and decedent lived together, the splitting of rent and utilities would likely be insufficient to establish dependency as it is a true family pot with equal expenses split.

However, here, three people were to occupy the apartment, not two. Decedent agreed, in effect, to subsidize applicant’s rent and utilities. That agreement is sufficient to establish a partial dependency where the applicant is decedent’s sister.

The petition for reconsideration focuses on the undisputed facts that this was a promise for support prior to decedent s passing and that no actual support occurred prior to death. On this point, the argument proffered by DWD was too narrow.

A mere promise of future support is not, as a rule, a basis for a dependency finding, except where circumstances indicate a bona fide assumption of responsibility for support without opportunity to make contributions prior to the injury.” (Wings West Airlines v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1986) 187 Cal. App. 3d 1047, 1052.)

The significant fact here is that they signed a lease together prior to Ms. O’Sullivan’s death. By signing a lease contract, there was a bona fide assumption of responsibility for support, which occurred prior to death. The only reason that Ms. O’Sullivan did not make payments prior to her death was lack of opportunity.