Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits
In addition to workers’ compensation benefits for workers for their job-related injuries and illnesses, if such maladies ultimately result in death, certain survivors have the right to receive death benefits through their states’ workers’ compensation systems. If you are the family member or dependent of an employee who died from an injury or sickness incurred in the course of his or her employment, a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney can advise you about workers’ compensation death benefits.
The right to workers’ compensation death benefits is usually created by state law and details of the program vary among the states. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the law in your particular jurisdiction. This article will summarize the typical features of death benefits in most states.
In most states, the designation of appropriate beneficiaries of workers’ compensation death benefits looks at two main relationships:
- Members of the deceased’s family or household
Death benefits are designed to provide monetary support for those people who will suffer most from the worker’s death. Naturally, those dependent upon the worker for financial support will be negatively impacted by the death. Some states differentiate between those wholly and those partially dependent, with preference for naming the completely dependent people beneficiaries over those only partially dependent. In some states, partially dependent individuals receive reduced awards.
Sometimes certain family members, such as spouses and children, are presumed to be dependent without having to provide proof. However, if there has been a severance of the marital relationship, such as a voluntary separation with financial independence, a surviving spouse may not be assumed dependent.
Many states look at family relationships or household makeup. For example, sometimes states prescribe lists of familial relationships eligible for death benefits. Where states look to household membership, unmarried cohabiting partners, in-laws, stepchildren or stepparents, or even unrelated persons may qualify for death benefits, so long as they were living in shared households with the deceased workers, especially where financial dependence was present.
Generally, states are liberal in determining who should be named a beneficiary, consistent with the benevolent nature of the benefit.
Type and Amount
Beneficiaries receive benefits to cover funeral and burial expenses capped at certain levels varying widely from state to state. The other component of the death benefit is a monetary amount compensating for lost wages that is usually a percentage of weekly wages.
The length of time a beneficiary receives death benefits varies widely by jurisdiction. Depending on the state, a surviving spouse may receive benefits until his or her own death, for a set number of weeks, until remarriage or until another intimate relationship. A child usually receives death benefits until reaching the age of majority. Other types of dependants usually receive benefits for life or until they become financially independent.
For the right to death benefits to accrue, some states require that the work-related death occur within a particular length of time after the work injury, after the last treatment for the work injury or after some other occurrence. Some states require continuous disability from injury to death.
Finally, although the cause of death must be a job-related injury or disease, usually the cause of death does not have to be exclusively that injury or sickness, as long as it contributes significantly to the death.
Pending Claims or Accrued Benefits
A living employee’s workers’ compensation benefits are considered separate and distinct from the death benefits generated later for beneficiaries. When accrued regular workers’ compensation benefits are due a worker at the time of death, most states provide either that these accrued benefits pass through the estate of the deceased or to dependents. A death benefit award is a separate claim.