What Happens When a Loved One Dies from a Work Accident?

California law allows the dependents of workers who have died as a result of their employment or during the course and scope of their employment to collect workers’ compensation benefits. The law also allows for burial expenses to cover the costs of laying your loved one to rest. 

Sadly, when a loved one dies and the connection to his or her employment seems obvious, the insurance company will still contest the claim. This article will discuss workers’ compensation death benefits and the issue of dependency, which is the most common issue arising from these types of claims. 

This article only grazes the topic of benefits available in a death claim. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be the final authority on this topic. Therefore, it should be considered only as a starting point for analyzing death claims and the benefits associated with these claims.

Each case is different and should be handled according to the particular case’s facts. Please know that California workers’ compensation law on this topic is extremely complex and therefore we strongly urge you to get the help of attorney. 

Death Benefits

Generally, for deaths which occur on or after January 1, 2006, workers’ compensation benefits payable to the dependents of the decedent range from $250,000.00 to $320,000.00.  Death benefits are usually paid out over time, but in certain cases, can be settled by a lump sum. The amount of death benefits for individuals who are not presumed to be dependents (for example, spouses and minor children), will depend on the facts of the case and the nature of the dependency.

What Is A Dependent?

Dependents are individuals who relied upon the deceased worker for financial support at the time of the death. The issue of dependency is resolved by determining how much financial support was provided by the deceased worker to the individual claiming dependency. The amount of support can determine whether someone is considered a total dependent or partial dependent. 

Case law states that a dependent can be a “good faith member of the employee’s household or family” or “related to the employee in one of the ways listed by statute” (such as a spouse, child, parent, or grandchild.) See Chevron vs. WCAB,19 Cal. 4th 1182.

Minor children are presumed to be dependent while other individuals making a claim of dependency must establish either total or partial dependence by producing facts and documentation to support their claim of financial dependence.

Financial dependency has been defined as “a present, existing relationship between two persons where the one is sustained by, or relies on, the aid of the other for his means of living.”  Industrial Indem. Co. v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 700, 705–706. A person claiming dependency does not have to show absolute dependency for the necessities of life but rather that he or she looks to and relies upon the contributions of the decedent completely or partially as a means of supporting and maintaining his or her accustomed mode of life. In other words, dependency reflects a present, current reliance upon the decedent for support.

What Is A Total Dependent?

Total dependents are those who were largely reliant upon the deceased worker for financial support. The most common example of a totally dependent individual is a minor child.

What Is A Partial Dependent?

A partial dependent is someone who was not totally dependent on the deceased worker but received some support.  The most common type of a partial dependent is a child who is over the age of eighteen and receives some financial support. An example of this is where the deceased worker paid his or her child’s car insurance or made car payments while his or her child was attending college.

How is Dependency Proven?

In order to prove partial dependency, the person claiming death benefits must prove the dollar amount the decedent paid for his or her support. Once the claimant has established partial dependency by showing the amount of financial support actually contributed by the decedent, he or she has effectively proved partial dependency within the meaning of Labor Code section 4702(a)(4) (the code section which governs the calculation of death benefits.)

What Are Burial Expenses?

The Labor Code also provides for the payment of reasonable burial/funeral expenses incurred by the family of the decedent up to $10,000.00 (for injuries on or after January 1, 2013.) 

To be reimbursed for burial expenses, receipts from the various vendors or religious institutions must be obtained and submitted to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier for the decedent’s employer. Also, it is recommended that some form of explanation be submitted along with the receipts.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

There are a number of statutes that affect the value of death benefits, as the Law Office of Aric N. Williams can explain. There are also statutes that could lower the death benefits. Therefore, consultation with an attorney is strongly urged. 

If you would like a free consultation regarding a workers’ compensation claim involving death benefits, please contact Pratt Williams. We have been dedicated to helping injured individuals and their families in California and beyond for decades.