(SIOUX FALLS, S.D.) — The night after being served with divorce papers, Steven Tassler shot and killed his wife, Julie Tassler, while she was taking her 15 minute-break in the parking lot of the bank processing center where she worked, before taking his own life.
Now, the South Dakota Supreme Court is considering whether her death on Christmas Eve 2008 qualifies for workers’ compensation that would go to the couple’s 11-year-old and 9-year-old children.
The case, which is on appeal after the District Court and the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation ruled against the family, hangs on the family attorney’s ability to prove that Tassler would have not been shot to death if she hadn’t been at work.
On behalf of her estate, Julie Tassler’s father, Ronald Voeller, is suing British-owned HSBC, his daughter’s former employer in Sioux Falls, as well as AIG, which insures the bank for workers’ compensation costs.
If the court grants the appeal, Tassler’s children would be entitled to collect two-thirds of their mother’s average weekly wage until they turn 18, as well as the $10,000 for her funeral and burial, the family’s attorney, Dean Nasser, said.
If they decided to go to college, they would receive her compensation until they turned 22, he said.
Voeller, their grandfather, declined to comment.
The case is unique for South Dakota because it rests on “a personal motive being imported into the workplace and causing injury,” Nasser said.
“This would set a precedent,” he said.
In order for an individual to be granted workers’ compensation in South Dakota because of injury, the injury needs to “arise out of” the employment. The question in this case is whether Tassler’s being at work allowed her husband to kill her.
Nasser said that because Tassler was at HSBC and her husband, Steven, knew her work schedule, he could predict “exactly where and when she would be vulnerable,” he said.
Although Steven Tassler, 47, had the keys to both Tassler’s car and house, he would have never killed her in front of her children, Nasser said.
He said Steven Tassler knew that his wife, who was a smoker, usually spent her short breaks in her car, making phone calls, in the HSBC parking lot.
“Our evidence — and it was not refuted — showed [Tassler’s murder] couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” Nasser said. “He wouldn’t have access to her under the circumstances he needed. He’s not going to do this in front of the children.”
An administrative law judge ruled that HSBC “did not exacerbate or contribute to the assault,” but wrote in his 2011 decision that the South Dakota Supreme Court “has not dealt directly with the issue of whether injuries sustained as the result of a domestic assault arise out of the employment.”
But attorneys for HSBC say Tassler’s being at work has no connection with her slaying, and the employer should not have to pay her estate workers’ compensation.
“Providing a place where Steven [Tassler] could carry out his murder is not a sufficient causal connection that the employment facilitated the assault,” HSBC’s attorney Eric DeNure told the South Dakota Supreme Court Tuesday.
DeNure did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear when the court will make its ruling.
Nasser said he did not know how much Tassler earned, but said the amount that her children would collect from her workers’ compensation if the appeal is granted would take some burden off Tassler’s parents, who became their guardians after the deaths.
“The kids need whatever support they can get,” Nasser said. “They have lost immeasurably.”
It could take months for the state Supreme Court to reach a decision, Nasser said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jose Pagliery, CNN
Matt McFarland, CNN
Aaron Smith, CNN