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Death Benefits

When a Worker Dies on the Job, Death Benefits Provide Financial Assistance to Surviving Loved Ones

Some work injuries lead to the worst possible outcome – death. If a work-related accident or occupational disease causes death, or if a worker dies while entitled to benefits for permanent and total disability, the law provides for the payment of benefits to certain family members. These benefits include up to four years of the deceased worker’s salary (maximum of $267,600 as of January 1, 2014) and funeral expenses. Nothing can compensate for the loss of a loved one; however, these modest benefits provide some measure of financial assistance.

The requirements to show a death benefits claim is compensable are essentially the same as those for a non-fatal injury claim. Namely, that an employment relationship existed, the employee was injured in the course of his employment, and the injury arose out of the employment. Like all Wisconsin worker’s compensation benefits, death benefits are strictly laid out by statute.

Funeral Expenses

Any time that a work injury causes death of a worker, the worker’s compensation insurance company has to pay burial expenses, currently up to $10,000.

Death Benefits

In certain circumstances, death benefits may be due to the deceased worker’s “dependents.” The maximum amount of the death benefit is four times the average annual earnings of the worker. The questions regarding who will get the benefits and how much the benefits will be can be complicated. The Wisconsin worker’s compensation statute provides the rules for who may be entitled to death benefits and who has the priority for receiving death benefits. There are dependents who are presumed to be dependent by statute, while other family members must show that they are “dependent in fact.”

Death Benefits for Spouses, Domestic Partners, and Children

In determining who is eligible for receiving worker’s compensation death benefits, spouses, domestic partners, and children are given priority. These are the so-called “statutory dependents.” If a spouse or domestic partner is entitled to the full death benefit, the children may be entitled to additional benefits.

Death Benefits for Other Family Members Who Were Totally Dependent on the Worker

If the death benefits are not due to a spouse, domestic partner, or children, then other family members may be eligible for death benefits, for example, an uncle, aunt, or sibling. These family members must show that they were in fact totally dependent on the deceased worker (instead of being presumed by statute to be dependent).

Death Benefits for Parents

If no family members were totally dependent upon the deceased worker, the worker’s parents may still obtain benefits. If the deceased worker contributed more than $500 to the parents in the year before his or her death, then his or her parents may receive up to four times the amount the worker contributed to the parents, or one-half of the normal death benefit, whichever is greater. Those parents who received less than $500 of support from the deceased worker in the year prior to his death remain eligible for a $6,500 death benefit, assuming that the parents were not “estranged” from the deceased worker.

Death Benefits for Other Family Members Who Were Partially Dependent

If no one was totally dependent upon the deceased worker, and there are no surviving parents, other relatives may be able to prove partial dependency and obtain death benefits. The amount of death benefits for those partially dependent on the worker are calculated by determining the amount of financial aid the dependent might reasonably have anticipated to receive from the deceased worker, but for the injury causing death.

Death Benefits When There Are No Dependents

What happens if there are no dependents? In that circumstance, the benefits will go to a State fund called the Wisconsin Work Injury Supplemental Benefits Fund. Regardless of whether the worker dies with a dependent, the Fund will get a minimum of $20,000. If there are no dependents, then the Fund is entitled to the full value of the death benefits.

If your loved one has died as a result of work injury or died while eligible for permanent and total disability benefits, contact the attorneys at Hawks Quindel, S.C. to discuss whether you are eligible for death benefits.