Child denied benefits after mom's death

November 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
After a young Bay Area woman was killed on the job, her young son was denied worker's compensation death benefits. And the reason is causing outrage.

The insurance company involved in this case apparently feels there should be no policy benefits for this single mother's only child because she died as the result of a hate crime. The two had never met before. The victim was a black woman and the suspect is a white man. But the insurance company insists that legally this is a gray area.

Larry Olden is an 11-year-old boy who wonders if his dead mother's wish for him - a better life, college, will ever be realized.

On the morning of March 29, 2006, his mother, Taneka Talley was stabbed to death while working at a Dollar Tree store in Fairfield. According to a psychiatrist, the suspect woke up that morning determined to kill a black person, and Taneka was the first one he saw.

Carol Frazier is Taneka's mom and is now raising Larry.

"She loved her son and wanted him to have the best, then she goes to work, then she's denied because of the color of her skin? That's ridiculous," said Carol Frazier.

Workers compensation death benefits can be denied if there is a personal connection between the attacker and the victim, meaning, the crime is not related to employment. The insurance company for Dollar Tree Stores, Specialty Risk Services, says a hate crime also makes the crime personal, not workplace related and therefore not subject to compensation.

The company's local attorney refused to comment to ABC7 on the case, but said in a letter to the family's attorney: "(The suspect's) motivation in stabbing Taneka Talley was purely race motivated. As such it is our belief that our denial in this matter is proper."

Not so says attorney Moira Stagliano, who represents Taneka Talley's family.

"It is mind boggling, it is astounding to deny her son the benefits because this killing may have been racially motivated," said Stagliano.

Dollar Tree Spokesperson Shelley Davis tells ABC7: "At this point, it's an ongoing investigation, so it's inappropriate to comment."

The case of Taneka Talley is important. Former Chief Judge In the State Division of Worker's Compensation, Steven Siemers, thinks this would be the first case where a hate crime, in and of itself, established a personal connection. And he is concerned about what it means for greater policy implications if there's no worker's compensation for any victims of hate crimes. Ms. Frazier is struggling with more basic questions about the grandson she loves, but never expected to be raising.

"I have to buy clothes every six months because he keeps growing. It's very hard for me. It's just outrageous," said Carol Frazier.

The insurance company is reportedly offering about $5,000, while the attorney for the family wants closer to $400,000. The two sides have a couple more meetings scheduled before there would be a trial. The man charged with killing Taneka Talley has been declared mentally competent to stand trial.


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