Workers’ Compensation Claims for a Work-Related Death

June 12, 2024
Stern & Cohen
Man at head stone in graveyard

Losing a loved one is an immensely difficult experience, and it becomes even more overwhelming when it occurs in the workplace. In the aftermath of a work-related death, families are coping with grief and faced with practical concerns like financial stability. In such situations, understanding how to file a workers’ compensation claim becomes crucial.

Understanding Workers’ Compensation for Fatalities

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that can provide wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured during their employment. In cases of work-related fatalities, however, workers’ compensation also extends support – known as a death benefit – to dependents of the deceased.

To recover death benefits, some initial criteria must be met.

  1. The death must be work-related. To qualify as a work-related death, the employee must have sustained an injury in the course and scope of their employment, and the injury must have resulted in the employee’s death. A work-related death also includes instances where an employee’s death results from a medical treatment received for the work-related injury. Compensation is not available when the death, even if it occurred in the course and scope of employment, was caused by an employee’s violation of the law. Though benefits generally would be invalidated if the employee intentionally tried to harm themselves, compensation may be available for self-inflicted deaths where the death is a direct result of a work-related psychiatric illness.
  2. The claimant, or the person trying to recover death benefits, must establish that they are a dependent of the deceased employee. A dependent is typically those related by blood or marriage to the employee – including spouses, children, and other close relatives like siblings or parents – and depended on the employee for financial support at the time of their death. Additionally, stepchildren and children born posthumously may be entitled to benefits.

Therefore, if a loved one suffers a work-related injury, persons who qualify as a dependent of the decedent may be entitled to death benefits. Death benefits include medical expenses, lost wages, and up to $7,000 for funeral and burial costs.

Initiating the Claim Process

Because work-related deaths must often occur away from the home, the decedent’s employer is typically responsible for contacting the authorities and the employee’s family to inform them of the death or serious injury. However, to initiate a claim, dependents of the deceased employee must first notify the employer of the death – even if the employer is already aware. Dependents should also inform the employer of their intent to file for death benefits. Then, dependents have three years to file for death benefits. In instances where the injury or illness did not cause immediate death, the employee must have passed away within 300 weeks – or a little over five years – from the date of injury or illness. Dependents can file for death benefits by completing a Fatal Claim Petition For Compensation By Dependents Of Deceased Employees.

Understanding Your Benefits

Death benefits are awarded based on the decedent’s relation to the dependents. For instance, if a deceased employee is married without children, the surviving spouse can receive 51% of the decedent’s lost wages. Conversely, a surviving spouse with one child will be entitled to 60% of the decedent’s lost wages, while a surviving spouse with two or more children will be entitled to 66.66%. If the decedent is survived by children but did not have a spouse, the children’s legal guardian would be entitled to a percentage of the decedent’s wages calculated depending on the number of children. Children of a deceased employee are entitled to benefits until they are 18 years old or, if they enroll in school full-time, until 23 years of age. If a decedent passes away with no surviving spouse or children, any parent who was supported partially or wholly by the deceased employee may be entitled to a percentage of benefits – 32% if they were partially supported and 52% if they were wholly supported. Finally, if the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, or dependent parents, a dependent sibling may be entitled to death benefits.

A surviving spouse could receive lifelong death benefits. However, should the spouse choose to remarry, the ongoing benefits would cease, and the surviving spouse would instead be entitled to a lump sum payment equivalent to 104 weeks of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage.

In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, exploring other potential sources of financial assistance is essential. This may include life insurance policies or Social Security survivor benefits. Working closely with an attorney can help ensure a fair settlement, maximizing the benefits to which the dependents are entitled. If a claim is denied or if the benefits received are deemed inadequate, dependents have the right to appeal the decision.

Ensuring Comprehensive Assistance

Handling a workers’ compensation claim for a work-related death requires both practical and emotional considerations. By understanding the claims process, seeking legal guidance, and prioritizing self-care, dependents can navigate this challenging time with greater ease. At Stern & Cohen, support is available through every step of the process.