Death Benefits

Workers Compensation Attorneys and Lawyers in Los Angeles on Death Benefits

On average, at least one worker is killed on the job every day in California. The fatality rate is highest in the agriculture industry, with 17.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. The fatality rate is also high in the construction industry, with 6.8 deaths per 100,000 workers. Both of those death rates have increased in recent years.

Those statistics only include deaths that result from workplace injuries. Deaths from occupational diseases are estimated to be more common than deaths from on-the-job accidents. In addition, employers do not always agree that a death is work-related. The statistics therefore under report the job-related death rate.

One reason that job-related deaths in California go unreported is that the worker is undocumented. Yet California law gives undocumented workers the same right as all others to receive death benefits. Other deaths are not reported as work-related because an employee was inappropriately classified as an independent contractor.

Whenever a worker’s death is related to the worker’s job, the worker’s family should obtain legal advice. In many cases, workers’ compensation death benefits are available. The California workers’ compensation attorneys at Oktanyan Der-Grigorian Law Group, Inc. are available to advise family members about their valuable rights.

Who Collects Death Benefits?

Death benefits are always paid to the deceased employee’s total dependents, and sometimes to the deceased employee’s partial dependents. Legal terms often have different meanings when used in different laws. The terms “total dependent” and “partial dependent” have a specific meaning in the context of California’s workers’ compensation law.

Total dependents are the deceased worker’s:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Children with disabilities that prevent them from earning a living, regardless of their age
  • Spouse, if the spouse earned less than $30,000 during the 12 months before the worker’s death

Other relatives or household members might be a total dependent if they actually depended on the deceased worker for all their financial support. Unlike the three categories of total dependents listed above, other total dependents will generally need to present evidence to prove their financial dependence upon the deceased worker.

Partial dependents include spouses who earned more than $30,000 during the 12 months before the deceased worker’s death and other relatives or household who depended on the deceased worker for part of their financial support. They will also need to present evidence of their financial dependence on the deceased worker.

The deceased worker’s estate is not a dependent. Except as noted above, parents and other relatives are only dependents if they actually depended on the deceased worker for support. If you are not sure whether you are a dependent of the deceased worker, you should get advice from a California workers’ compensation attorney.

What Death Benefits Must Be Paid?

The employer must pay the deceased employee’s reasonable burial expenses, up to $10,000 (assuming the death occurred during or after 2013). In addition, the employer must pay a death benefit to total dependents and sometimes to partial dependents. The amount depends on the number of dependents.

For deaths that occurred during or after 2006, the death benefit is:

 

Number of Total Dependents Death Benefit for Total Dependents
1 total dependent $250,000
2 total dependents $290,000
3 total dependents $320,000

Partial dependents receive no death benefit if there are two or more total dependents. Otherwise, the death benefit for partial dependents is:

 

Number of Total Dependents Death Benefit for Partial Dependents
0 8 times annual support (max. $250,000)
1 4 times annual support (max. $290,000)

“Annual support” means the amount of financial support that the deceased worker provided to the partial dependent in a year. For example, if the deceased worker paid nursing home expenses of $20,000 for his elderly mother and his wife made less than $30,000 during the twelve months before he died, the worker’s wife would receive $250,000 because she qualifies as a total dependent, and the worker’s mother would receive $80,000 (4 time the annual support of $20,000).

Death benefits are paid in weekly installments until they are exhausted. However, death benefits paid to disabled children continue until the child dies.

What If Other Benefits Were Not Fully Paid?

If an employee was unable to work due to an injury and later died from that injury, the employer may be required to pay a temporary disability benefit for the period between the date of the injury and the date of death. A temporary disability benefit is usually equal to two-thirds of the employee’s wages, subject to a maximum amount. If temporary disability benefits were not fully paid at the time of the worker’s death, any unpaid benefits must be paid to the employee’s estate.

If an employee was collecting (or eligible for) permanent disability benefits and those benefits were not fully paid before the employee’s work-related death, the unpaid portion of those benefits must be paid to the employee’s estate. Any unpaid wages that the employee earned before death should also be paid to the employee’s estate.

Are Death Benefit Claims Ever Contested?

Employers (or their insurance companies) do contest death benefit claims. For example, suppose a delivery driver is killed in a traffic accident. If the driver was on duty, the death will generally be regarded as work-related. But if the employer claims that the driver detoured from making a delivery to run a personal errand, the workers’ compensation insurance company might refuse to pay the death benefit claim on the ground that the driver was not working when the accident occurred.

When there are no dependents, the death benefit is paid to the State of California. That means that the State of California will contest claims for death benefits if it believes that no person who is applying for the benefit is entitled to receive it. California workers’ compensation lawyers can help families when death benefit claims are contested.

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