Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits
Tragically, sometimes death occurs in the workplace. When this happens, the deceased worker's surviving dependents are eligible to receive certain death benefits under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, which are intended to provide support for the worker's spouse, children, or other dependents who relied on that worker financially.
While the exact percentage of workers' compensation death benefits differ depending on the financial situation of those on the receiving end of the benefits, the purpose is to closely mimic the earning income of the deceased. No one prepares for such an unexpected and distressing loss, and these benefits are meant to cushion that loss with at least some form of financial security.
The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act provide specific benefits in the event of a workers' death, which are as follows:
- Wage Replacement
The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act provides that in the event of a worker's death, certain benefits for disability benefits are owed, but these differ depending on how the survivor entitled to payment is defined under the Act. There are three types of beneficiaries entitled to payment under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act:
- Persons Wholly Dependent Upon Deceased Employee
Persons "wholly dependent" financially upon the deceased worker are entitled to 500 weeks of the deceased employee's disability benefits, to be paid over a 500 week period. There is a non-rebuttable presumption that widows or widowers are wholly dependent, regardless of their own earnings or financial assets. A widow or widower does not include divorced spouses, even if they were receiving financial assistance, alimony or child support from the deceased employee. Likewise, a girlfriend or boyfriend not legally married to the deceased worker are not eligible for benefits. It is important to note that North Carolina does not acknowledge common law marriage like other states. Likewise same-sex partners can find themselves without eligibility to death benefits in North Carolina.
If a deceased worker is single or divorced, the next tier of wholly dependent beneficiaries would be minor children, who are entitled to receive benefits at least until the age of 18. Where there are multiple dependent children, the benefits are to be divided equally, but adjusted if one child reaches 18 before the 500 week limit, and their siblings are still minors.
In certain circumstances, a deceased worker's children may be recipients of benefits may be extended if they are enrolled in college or university.
It is also very important to note that children born out of wedlock may be entitled to wage replacement benefits, as long as the deceased worker "acknowledged" them (sometimes the word "legitimated" is used. Evidence of acknowledgement can include child support orders, evidence of actions indicating the deceased worker acknowledged the child as their own, and evidence from others as to the acknowledgement of parentage. In almost all situations involved children out of wedlock receiving benefits, an insurance company will request a hearing to obtain an Order directing them to pay benefits. Otherwise, they might pay benefits, and later another person comes forward to claim entitlement to death benefits.
- Partial Dependents
If there are no persons wholly dependent upon a deceased worker, the next category entitled to compensation would be persons partially dependent upon the deceased worker. These individuals are entitled to payment for an amount of money proportional to the amount of support provided by the deceased worker. Examples of partial dependents include parents of the deceased worker, or other family members to whom they were providing financial support prior to their death.
- Next of Kin
If there are neither whole dependents nor partial dependents of a deceased worker, then the wage replacement benefits are payable to the employee's next of kin. This would include surviving parents or siblings. The North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act uses the law governing the distribution of assets of a deceased person who leaves no will, which is called "intestate succession". Next of kin receiving benefits from a death claim can receive those benefits in a lump sum, meaning the 500 weeks of benefits are paid based upon their present value.
If there are no whole dependents, partial dependents, or next of kin, then the insurance company does not owe any wage replacement benefits.
- Persons Wholly Dependent Upon Deceased Employee
- Medical Treatment & Bills
Any bills for treatment related to the injury which was the cause of a workers' death is to be paid by the workers' compensation carrier. Where an worker passes away shortly after their accident, sometimes large emergency room bills can be sent directly to the worker's spouse or family, and it is crucial that the spouse or family not assume those bills are being processed by the insurance company. It is important to pay particular attention to ambulance or air ambulance bills, as these providers often fail to pursue reimbursement by the insurance company, and even when they do so, can often prove unwilling to make the effort to provide documentation requested by the adjuster promptly, delaying payment.
- Funeral Expenses
The Workers' Compensation Act provides that up to $10,000.00 in funeral expenses are to be paid where an worker dies in a workplace accident. Often this requires submission of invoices or bills to the insurance company, so that they can pay any providers of funeral services, or reimburse the family (or party responsible for payment of funeral expenses). In some cases, insurance adjusters will pay for the cost of transporting a deceased workers' body. In order to avoid any problems with payment of funeral expenses under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, it is extremely important to obtain written documentation to support a claim for payment or reimbursement of those expenses. It is also a good idea to advise funeral service providers of the benefits available, especially if the family of a deceased worker is unable to advance those costs.
The workers' compensation lawyers of the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor are passionate about helping people move on from the tragic loss of a loved one due to a work accident as seamlessly as possible. We know absolutely nothing can make up for the fact that you have lost an irreplaceable person in your life, but we can help take the burden of fighting with the insurance company off your shoulders. Indeed, sometimes insurance companies will deny claims for death benefits, and fighting that denial requires the assistance of an experienced workers' compensation attorney. Even when claims are accepted, insurance companies are often slow to pay the benefits they owe under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, adding financial burdens to the emotional ones face by a deceased worker's loved ones. If you have lost a loved one due to a workplace accident, you should not have to bear the burden of fighting with an insurance company for prompt payment of all benefits owed under the North Carolinas Workers' Compensation Act, and our experienced workers' compensation attorneys stand ready to assist you.
Contact us today by calling us at (800) 351-3008.