How Can Family Help After a Workplace Death?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Sarah E. Stottlemyer with Stottlemyer & Associates, LLC.
Workplace deaths typically occur when a worker sustains injuries on the job that lead to their death; workplace deaths may also occur when an accident occurs at work leading to a death at the scene. Unfortunately, these situations typically leave grieving family members to pick up the pieces both emotionally and financially. The good news is that family members of a worker who passed away due to workplace injuries may have options for recovery. Not only do workers’ compensation programs offer benefits to families of deceased workers, but depending on how the death occurred, it may also be possible to file a wrongful death claim against the responsible party.
Families can contact the deceased’s employer to inquire about workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation is a type of employee injury insurance designed to compensate injured workers and their families while protecting employers from liability. Most states require employers over a certain size to offer some form of workplace injury insurance. In the event that a worker dies from their injuries received at work, workers’ comp benefits may cover a portion of the resulting medical bills and a percentage of their loss of income for the family. The average income of the deceased, number of dependents, and state in which the accident occurred can all affect the value of the death benefits offered under workers’ comp.
While someone receiving workers’ comp benefits is not typically eligible to file a lawsuit against the employer, this rule does not apply when negligence caused or contributed to the death. This means if the employer, a co-worker, or a third-party made a mistake resulting in a worker’s death, the surviving family may be eligible to receive temporary death benefits via workers’ comp in addition to filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death claims can typically seek a broad range of damages after a loved one’s death.
While the damages covered by workers’ comp death benefits tends to be limited to short-term medical bills and lost wages, the damages that may be sought in a wrongful death claim may include the total of the medical bills, wages lost during the deceased’s treatment, as well as the loss of expected income to the surviving family, especially if the deceased was a primary wage earner.
Additional damages that can be sought in a wrongful death claim include compensation for the deceased’s pain and suffering, loss of care and companionship for the family, as well as funeral and burial expenses. The damages that can be claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit tend to apply on a much broader and long-term basis compared to the death benefits offered by workers’ comp.
Employers are required to provide for the basic safety of their workers; whenever a worker’s death could have been prevented by reasonable attention to industry safety regulations, it may be possible to file a wrongful death claim against the liable party to make a recovery for the surviving family.
Parties that are eligible to file a wrongful death claim/receive death benefits from workers’ comp varies by state.
It’s important to note that the family members considered eligible to file a wrongful death claim or to receive death benefits from workers’ compensation can vary significantly from state to state. In most cases, immediate family members such as spouses, domestic partners, and even adult children may be considered eligible to file. In Georgia, if the deceased was unmarried without children, surviving parents may also be eligible to file.
If the deceased did not have any qualifying relationship, it may be possible to petition the court to be established as the executor of the deceased’s estate depending on your state. Regardless, filing a wrongful death claim can be extremely complicated; from collecting the necessary evidence to filling out official paperwork and meeting all the necessary and state-specific deadlines, it is highly recommended to consult with a wrongful death attorney if you suspect you may be eligible to file a claim on behalf of a loved one who died at work or from a workplace injury.
To learn more about recovery options for families after a workplace death, or for help filing a claim, reach out to a workplace injury attorney in your area.