A Kentucky woman died recently after she suffered a head injury while working on a garbage truck, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. The newspaper’s report contained heart-wrenching quotes from the 30-year-old woman’s mother who described her daughter as her best friend.
Family members depend upon each other in many ways for friendship, emotional support, companionship and practical help. In many cases, they depend upon each other for their income. What happens when a family member dies in a workplace accident, leaving the rest of the family grieving and without a necessary source of income? For these awful cases, workers’ compensation may be able to help.
Workers’ compensation provides benefits for workers who are injured in the course of their employment. The benefits are intended to help the injured pay for their medical expenses, and to provide them with some income while they are unable to return to work. In the case of a fatal workplace accident, the workers’ compensation program can provide so-called death benefits for the family of the deceased.
Workers’ compensation determines the dollar amount of these benefits according to a somewhat complicated formula, based on the wages of the worker at the time of the accident, how long after the accident the death occurred and other factors. The benefits are intended to provide income for the family members who were actually dependent on the worker’s income. In most cases, this means the benefits go to the worker’s surviving spouse and children under age 18.
Benefits can also go to adult offspring and other family members if they were actually dependent upon the deceased worker’s income. For instance, a parent of a worker who shares a household with the worker, or who depends upon the worker for financial help, may be considered actually dependent.
To collect workers’ compensation death benefits, the family members do not have to prove that the employer did anything wrong. In this sense, collecting workers’ compensation benefits is very different from and easier than filing a lawsuit that alleges negligence.
However, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy. This means people who collect workers’ compensation benefits after an injury are generally barred from filing suit against the employer in any action related to the same accident.
No legal action can bring back a beloved family member whose life was taken away too soon in an accident. But the monetary impact of losing a loved one in an accident is very real. A family should not have to suffer financial disaster at the same time they are coping with their grief. An attorney with experience in workers’ compensation can help families understand their rights and options after a tragic workplace accident.