Losing a loved one is always painful. But when the death occurs as a result of a job-related injury or disease, the loss can be especially devastating — both emotionally and financially.
Though no amount of money can possibly replace a family member, Pennsylvania does provide workers’ compensation death benefits to eligible relatives after an employee’s passing. Death benefits are intended to ease the economic blow and give surviving family members space to grieve without worrying about how to pay the bills.
In an ideal world, employers would automatically agree to pay death benefits to qualifying family members with no disputes. The reality can be quite different for Pennsylvanians. The employer’s insurance company may challenge its duty to pay out the death benefits that relatives are owed. That’s when it’s time to call the workers’ compensation lawyers at Calhoon & Kaminsky, P.C.
You should never have to fight for death benefits in the face of your unimaginable loss. Our team of accomplished Harrisburg attorneys has helped grieving families navigate the complexities of the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system for more than 20 years. Let us stand up for you, too. Call or contact us today for a free consultation.
What Happens if A Loved One Dies on the Job?
The workers’ compensation system is time-sensitive and difficult to understand. Both employers and family members have responsibilities to fulfill before death benefits can be awarded.
If the fatal accident occurred on the job, employers must:
- Call the authorities immediately. Emergency medical services and law enforcement should be summoned right away. The employer must provide information to notify the worker’s family of the accident.
- Report the death to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers must notify OSHA within 8 hours of the death. OSHA investigates all fatalities in all workplaces that fall under its jurisdiction.
- Report the fatality to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Employers have 48 hours to provide notice of the death.
- Prepare the final paycheck. The check should include the employee’s wages and money accrued for any remaining vacation, paid time off (PTO), sick days, and any bonuses or commissions. Death benefits are not included in the paycheck. They are entirely separate.
In addition, family members must fulfill certain requirements to remain eligible for death benefits in Pennsylvania. The most important qualification is meeting the filing deadline. You must:
- Inform the employer of the death as soon as possible. Even if the employer is already aware of the death, you need to provide them with formal notice of the loss and your intent to file a claim for death benefits.
- File for death benefits within 3 years of the date of death. While you have three years, it’s wise to report your loss as soon as possible. If the insurance company decides to dispute the claim, it’s better to investigate the accident while evidence and witness memories are fresh.
The death must also meet requirements under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law.
- The injury must have been work-related. The death must have occurred while the worker was performing tasks “in the course and scope” of his or her employment. For example, death benefits would not be payable if a worker was killed during the commute to work. However, they could be paid if the employee was a delivery driver and in the process of making a delivery when the fatal accident happened.
- The death must have occurred within 300 weeks (or 5.8 years) of when the fatal injury occurred. Determining the date of injury can be particularly challenging when employees die from occupational illnesses, such as black lung disease or mesothelioma. A knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney can investigate the case and determine your eligibility for death benefits.
- The death must not be the result of an employee’s reckless or careless actions. Death benefits are not possible if workers engaged in horseplay, were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or intentionally put themselves in harm’s way at work.
Coping with a loss is hard enough without trying to keep track of deadlines and make sure claims for workers’ compensation death benefits are filed correctly. A skilled attorney from Calhoon & Kaminsky, P.C. can handle the entire process for you with minimal disruptions to your life. That way, you can grieve in peace.
Can Your Family Collect Death Benefits?
If your family member died in a job accident or from an occupational illness, you are likely entitled to death benefits. In general, Pennsylvania death benefits are available to:
- Children under 18 (or under 23 if they are attending a college, university, or trade school full time)
- Children who are physically or mentally incapacitated at any age
- Dependent parents
- Dependent siblings
How Much Does Workers’ Comp Pay in Death Benefits?
The amount the qualifying family members are able to receive in death benefits depends on several factors. In general, dependents are entitled to a percentage of the deceased average weekly wage (AWW) up to a state maximum. Under Pennsylvania law, funeral benefits of up to $3,000 will also be paid.
Death benefits are also paid to dependents in order of priority:
- Spouse and no children: The spouse receives 51 percent of the worker’s average weekly age.
- Spouse and children: A percentage is paid based on the number of children the deceased has. For one child, it’s 60 percent. For two or more children, the amount is 66 and 2/3 percent.
- Spouse and children with a different guardian: If there is a surviving spouse and the deceased has children with a separate guardian, the benefits are split. For a spouse and one child, death benefits are split 60 percent. For two or more children, the spouse receives one-third and the children split the remaining one-third.
- Children with no spouse: The child’s guardian will receive the benefit on behalf of the children. As with other arrangements, the benefit is divided as a percentage based on the number of children.
- No spouse or children: Death benefits go to partially or fully dependent children.
- No spouse, children, or parents: Benefits are paid to financially dependent siblings.
Because every family is unique, it can be difficult to sort out who is entitled to benefits and how much they are able to receive. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can help sort out these details so that beneficiaries are properly compensated.
How a Harrisburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Can Help
To receive death benefits, you will have to accomplish two goals: prove that the death was work-related and that you were dependent on the deceased’s income. Accomplishing these tasks is not necessarily straightforward, which is why a lawyer can help.
At Calhoon & Kaminsky, P.C., our attorneys can investigate the fatal workplace accident and collect the evidence needed to build a compelling case for death benefits for you. With two decades of experience on our side, our legal team knows what types of challenges to anticipate from insurers and can craft a case that stands up to the harshest scrutiny.
It’s often to your best advantage to negotiate a lump-sum settlement with the insurance company. Family circumstances change, which means that death benefits that should be paid over a period of many years can be cut short abruptly. This might happen if a surviving spouse remarries or an adult child decides to leave school. A well-negotiated lump-sum settlement will maximize the amount of benefits you receive to meet your present and future needs.
During this period of immense grief, let Calhoon & Kaminsky, P.C. lighten the load. Our compassionate Harrisburg workers’ compensation lawyers will treat your case with the dignity and respect it deserves.
Help is only a phone call away. Contact us now for a free consultation.