An employee who is injured in a workplace incident does not always survive the injuries, and dies leaving loved ones sometimes panicking and wondering what they will do if the family member was responsible for the family’s main source of income. If the employee had lived, the workers’ compensation benefits he would have received would have met his family’s needs while they figured out a more long term solution. Luckily, the right to workers’ compensation benefits does not end when an employee dies in a workplace incident, and his survivors may be entitled to death benefits.
What Benefits Are Available?
South Carolina law provides that any medical bills an eligible employee incurs before death, that are related to the workplace injuries sustained, and the funeral expenses, up to a certain amount, are to be covered by the employer. Additionally, the deceased employee’s family members who were dependent on the employee at the time of the injury receive additional compensation in weekly payments that are a percentage of the employee’s salary or benefits after the injury for a period of time. The payments are usually capped at two-thirds of the employee’s weekly wages, but not less than $75 or more than the maximum weekly rate, and generally last for 500 weeks. A qualifying dependent has to file a claim for death benefits within two years of an employee’s death, but there may be more time allowed to file for death benefits for an employee who dies from workplace injuries after he is determined to have a total disability from those injuries. Failure to make a claim within this time can result in the dependent losing the right to recover benefits.
Spouses and minor children are usually presumed to have been dependent on the deceased employee at the time of the injury, and can therefore receive death benefits easier than other dependents. This presumption means that the spouse and minor children do not have to prove that they relied on the employee’s pay or workers’ compensation benefits for financial support. If there are others who were partially or wholly dependent on the deceased employee, they usually have to prove that dependency. Even if there are other dependents, the law requires that the spouse receive a larger share of the death benefits if there are minor children involved. If there are no direct dependents, such as a spouse and minor children, death benefits may be distributed to others who were not directly dependent on the deceased employee, like adult children or parents.
What Other Financial and Legal Considerations are there?
Death benefits like workers’ compensation benefits paid out to an injured employee are not generally taxable income under both South Carolina and federal law. Furthermore, the money is exempt from creditors’ claims on the deceased employee’s estate. However, depending on how old the surviving spouse is, the benefits and any lump sum awarded may affect the spouse’s eligibility for government programs like Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This is a consideration for those for whom these government programs would help meet monthly budgetary and medical insurance needs. If a lump sum is offered or due to a dependent spouse, the spouse should consult with a financial planner or attorney to see how this can affect longer estate planning needs.
In cases where an employer refuses to pay workers’ compensation benefits, or where the deceased was not a true employee and therefore seeking workers’ compensation benefits would be difficult, the survivors may still be able to receive compensation through other legal actions. Employers can also try to deny a workers’ compensation claim if they say an employee committed suicide or was trying to hurt himself when he died. This is a defense that is available to the employer under the South Carolina workers’ compensation law, but an employer’s denial can be challenged, with the employer required to prove these claims in order for the denial of benefits to stand.
Additionally, while an employee would ordinarily be precluded from filing a civil suit against an employer for personal injury, a person who is determined to have been an independent contractor would not be limited by this restriction. Therefore, even when you think that you may not be able to receive workers’ compensation death benefits based on injuries suffered by a deceased employee, you should speak to an attorney to understand your options.
Contact an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney
One of the last things you may want to do after losing a loved one is deal with filing applications for workers’ compensation benefits and following up with the employer to ensure you receive all that you and your family are entitled to under South Carolina law. Hiring an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to handle your claim for death benefits can reduce some of the stress, and allow you to handle other matters while you wait. Call a skilled Greenville or Spartanburg, South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney from Double Aught Injury Lawyers to start the process as soon as possible.