Can I Get a Workers’ Compensation Settlement after a Loved One’s Death?

Posted by: Sep 09, 2019Articles & Advice

Workers' Compensation Settlement after a Loved One's Death

According to the AFL-CIO, about 150 people die each year in the United States from hazardous work conditions.

You might know that workers’ compensation provides disability benefits to injured workers, but what happens when your loved one dies? Can surviving family members receive a settlement for a workers’ death?

The answer is “yes,” but you’ll need to check whether you qualify for a benefit. For help during this difficult time, please reach out to a workers’ compensation attorney in Vermont or New Hampshire today to discuss your case. You should avoid delay.

Was Your Loved One Hurt on the Job?

Workers’ compensation benefits are available only for a worker who is injured on the job or who contracts an occupational illness. The worker doesn’t have to die at work but must suffer the fatal injury or illness while on the job.

For example, a loved one who is exposed to toxic substances at work and develops cancer, as a result, would be eligible. A worker who fell 5 stories and ultimately succumbs to injuries at the hospital is also eligible. However, the family of someone who died skiing during a work trip might not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, if the fatal injury has no relationship to work. 

For example, if an employee is on a work trip, and decides to go skiing on his own time and is injured, that almost certainly would not be covered by workers’ compensation.  However, if the skiing part of the trip was a company event or otherwise related to the work-aspect of the trip, it likely would be covered under workers’ compensation.

If your loved one was intoxicated at work or was engaged in horseplay, you should meet with an attorney to discuss. It might not be clear whether workers’ comp will cover these kinds of deaths.

Are You a Surviving Dependent?

Not anyone can make a claim for a workers’ comp settlement. The state wants to see that you were financially dependent on the worker who has died.

In New Hampshire, for example, you can qualify for a death benefit pursuant to the law if you are a “dependent.” The definition is found at RSA 281-A:2(V) and includes the following people, if they are entirely or partially dependent on the worker:

  • Widow or widower
  • Children, up to age 18 or 25 if a full-time student unless the child marries before then
  • Parents
  • Another person in direct line of ascent or descent, such as grandparents or grandchildren
  • Next of kin

In Vermont, a death benefit is available for spouses and children who are under age 18. If a child is disabled or a full-time student, they might receive benefits longer.

What Compensation Can a Dependent Receive?

The primary compensation will be in the form of weekly benefits. You should understand (a) how much you can receive in benefits and (b) the duration of benefits.

Generally, the amount a surviving family member will receive depends on the loved one’s average weekly wage. Survivors will not receive 100% of what a loved one made but instead a percentage:

  • In New Hampshire, dependents can receive 60% of the deceased’s average weekly wage before death. The state has minimum and maximum amounts, which are adjusted each year. If more than one person qualifies for benefits, then the Commissioner will apportion the benefits to each qualifying dependent.
  • In Vermont, you will receive between 66.67% and 76.67%, depending on whether you have any children and how many. There is a maximum weekly benefit that applies.

Benefits also do not last indefinitely. The state might cut off benefits because of some action that you took, such as getting remarried. You will also lose benefits when you reach a certain age. In Vermont, the age is 62.

Will an Employer Pay for Burial and/or Funeral Expenses?

Yes. In New Hampshire, an employer should pay up to $10,000 for burial/funeral expenses. In Vermont, the family can receive $10,000 for the funeral and up to $5,000 for transportation of the body to the burial site.

What Steps Must You Take to Make a Claim?

It is up to dependents to file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits. The state will not seek you out and do this for you, nor will your loved one’s employer.You should meet with a workers’ compensation attorney in Vermont or New Hampshire to review whether you qualify and what steps you need to take to receive benefits.

Each state also has time limits for filing a claim. In New Hampshire, for example, you typically get 3 years from the date of injury. There are some exceptions, but you really shouldn’t rely on them. Meet with an attorney as soon as possible.

What if Workers’ Compensation Benefits are Not Enough?

As described above, no dependent will receive 100% of their loved one’s wages. Instead, the percentage is much lower than that. If your loved one was the sole or primary breadwinner in the family, then you are facing a dramatic drop in living standards. In New Hampshire, for example, your loved one might have made $1,000 a week, but now you are getting only $600 in a death benefit.

It might be possible to increase the compensation you receive by bringing a third-party lawsuit. The workers’ compensation law makes your employer immune from a lawsuit, so you can’t sue them. But there might be someone else—called a “third party”—who is to blame. For example, if your loved one traveled for work and was killed on her way to a conference, then you might sue the driver who hit her.

Likewise, if your loved one was killed by a defective power tool or defective scaffolding, you might be able to bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer. With a third-party lawsuit, family members can sometimes receive full compensation for lost wages, as well as for intangible injuries like pain and suffering.

Contact Sabbeth Law Today

The weeks and months after a loved one’s death are difficult times. We know that no money can ever replace a beloved family member. However, the loss of a family breadwinner can bring increasing financial stress, and you and your children need compensation to pay bills.

Reach out to a New Hampshire or Vermont workers’ compensation attorney today. Sabbeth Law has helped many people like you get the money you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your rights